Cronutt the sea lion is cured of epilepsy after breakthrough treatment where pig brain cells were transplanted into its damaged cerebrum - and humans could be next

  • A sea lion named Cronutt suffered brain damage from toxic algal in California, which resulted in him having epilepsy 
  • In 2020, Cronutt underwent an operation that transplanted pig brain cells into its damaged brain 
  • Nearly 16 months later, Cronutt's caretakers say  he has not had an seizure
  • Researchers are now hopefully this therapy could be used to help humans 

A sea lion named Cronutt has been given a second lease on life thanks for a ground-breaking procedure that cured his epilepsy - and the treatment could soon be used to save humans.

Cronutt was found beached in San Luis Obispo County, California in 2017 due to brain damage caused by toxic algal that caused the animal to have seizures.

In 2020, surgeons conducted an experimental therapy that transplanted healthy pig brain cells into Cornutt’s brain.

Now, more than a year after the surgery, Scott Baraban, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, told National Geographic Cronnutt is seizure-free, has regained his appetited and is back to a normal weight - and has not had an episode since.

Researchers are now considering the same treatment on humans, as more than 50 million people suffer from the disorder.

Karen Wilcox, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Utah who wasn’t involved in the transplant, told National Geographic: ‘It’s a very promising approach.’

Wilcox continued to explain that this type of treatment could be a miracle for those who have not seen promising results through drug therapies. 

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A sea lion named Cronutt has been given a second lease on life thanks for a ground-breaking procedure that cured his epilepsy - and the treatment could soon be used to save humans

A sea lion named Cronutt has been given a second lease on life thanks for a ground-breaking procedure that cured his epilepsy - and the treatment could soon be used to save humans

Epilepsy is a chronic noncommunicable disease of the brain that is characterized by recurrent seizures that are sometimes accompanied by loss of consciousness and control of bowel or bladder function.

Seizures are a result of excessive electrical discharges in a group of brain cells and vary from the briefest lapses of attention or muscle jerks to severe and prolonged convulsions.

Seizures can also vary in frequency, from less than one per year to several per day.

Epilepsy is typically diagnosed in older adults and can be related to genetic abnormalities, prior brain infection, prenatal injuries or developmental disorders.

In 2020, surgeons conducted an experimental therapy that transplanted healthy pig brain cells into Cornutt’s brain

In 2020, surgeons conducted an experimental therapy that transplanted healthy pig brain cells into Cornutt’s brain

Surgeons gave Cronutt four injections of around 50,000 cells each into his left hippocampus. Five hours later, Cronutt emerged from anesthesia and was on his way home

Surgeons gave Cronutt four injections of around 50,000 cells each into his left hippocampus. Five hours later, Cronutt emerged from anesthesia and was on his way home

Nearly 16 months later, Cronutt appears to be happy, healthy and seizure free. Researchers are now considering the same treatment on humans, as more than 50 million people suffer from the disorder.

Nearly 16 months later, Cronutt appears to be happy, healthy and seizure free. Researchers are now considering the same treatment on humans, as more than 50 million people suffer from the disorder.

In Cronutt’s case, the sea lion suffered from domoic acid poisoning after eating shellfish contaminated with the toxic algal.

On October 6, 2020, a team of 18 veterinarians, researchers, and neurosurgeons gathered outside a veterinary clinic in Redwood City, California prior to the operation. 

Baraban and his team had performed this procedure on mice, showing successful results, but never on an animal of this size.

They first located Cornutt’s seizures in the hippocampus, a complex brain structure deep in the temporal love that plays a role in memory and learning, and there the team saw this region was scarred and shrunken.

Surgeons then gave Cronutt four injections of around 50,000 cells each into his left hippocampus.

During the week of his surgery, the sea lion experienced 11 seizures, but his caretakers at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California say they have not seen a single episode

During the week of his surgery, the sea lion experienced 11 seizures, but his caretakers at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California say they have not seen a single episode

Five hours later, Cronutt emerged from anesthesia and was on his way home.

During the week of his surgery, the sea lion experienced 11 seizures, but his caretakers at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California say they have not seen a single episode.

The procedure, however, cannot reverse Cronutt's brain damage, but is likely able to stop further damage and prevent  seizures.  

While transplanting pig brain cells into a human may be months, even years, away, a transplant of a pig heart into a human was just performed this month.

Surgeons used a heart taken from a pig that had undergone gene-editing to make it less likely that his body's immune system would reject the organ. 

Experts say it is too soon to know if his body will fully accept the organ and the next few weeks will be critical as he is weaned off the machine.

But, if successful, it would mark a medical breakthrough and could save thousands of lives in the US alone each year. Doctors called the procedure a 'watershed event'.

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Cronutt the sea lion cured of epilepsy after pig brain cells were transplanted into its cerebrum

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