Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Inflammation and Epilepsy

Inflammation and epilepsy; is there a
causal connection? Image NYT
The New York Times today describes a 400-patient, Phase 2 trial of a new medication that approaches epilepsy from a new angle: below. Currently, the drugs used to treat epilepsy patients do so from the top down, by attempting to suppress seizures. But just as sneezing is only a symptom of the flu, not the flu itself, seizing is just the most salient and acute symptom of epilepsy, not the disease itself.

Current drugs are developed and tested on animals who don't have epilepsy at all, according to Dieter Schmidt, head of the Epilepsy Research Group in Berlin. Researchers induce seizures in the animals and then try to suppress them. So these drugs don't even aim to cure epilepsy, just to quell seizures.

The study, led by Dr. Jacqueline French, a neurologist at NYU's Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, is studying a new anti-inflammatory drug that may address, she says, the causes of the epilepsy itself. If so, that would represent a major advance in treating the disorder, which affects about 2.7 million people in the US and 50 million people worldwide. 

In particular, French hopes the drug will help those epilepsy patients whose seizures are not suppressed by any current medications, the so-called "intractable" or treatment-resistant cases. That group makes up about one third of all epilepsy patients. 

The experimental medication, called VX-756 exploits recent insights into the connection between inflammation in the brain and epilepsy. For more on this, see my story about the role of glial cells in epilepsy: The Glia Club, Epilepsy USA, 2010 #3.  The excellent New York Times story, by Alastair Gee, is here. More on the inflammation connection soon.

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