Three new therapeutics for epilepsy have been uncovered

23rd July 2020

A major international study has discovered three molecules, all of which have the potential to be developed into new medications with promising applications for epilepsy. The aim of the study was to discover new, more effective medications for those people who have seizures that cannot currently be controlled by the treatment options available at the moment. 

Led by researchers at FutureNeuro, the SFI Research Centre for Chronic and Rare Neurological Diseases and Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland University of Medicine and Health Sciences, the study and results is the culmination of seven years research. 35 scientists have contributed to the work across 8 different countries within Europe that required specialists from a variety of scientific fields, including neuroscience, genetics, computer science and synthetic chemistry. 

It has been hailed as one of the largest sequencing programmes of its kind and required researchers to identify and measure over a billion strands of microRNAs, which are the small molecules that control gene activity within the brain. The investigation was to see if these were changed in epilepsy. During the study, 3 microRNAs were discovered that were always elevated in epilepsy and designed drug-like molecules. Three of the synthetic molecules that were developed were found to stop seizures in preclinical tests. 

The team ran computer simulations to demonstrate how these treatments could influence molecule activity within the brain by changing the inflammatory response, which is a part of the brain’s immune system and has long been thought to contribute to seizure activity. 

Dr Cristina Reschke, FutureNeuro Research Fellow and Honorary Lecturer at RCSI, and Co-Lead Author commented: “Our approach to drug discovery has led us to new types of molecules that can be targeted to prevent seizures with hopefully fewer side effects. Currently, most drugs used to treat epilepsy work by blocking the signals brain cells use to communicate. This results in many of the side effects experienced by people with epilepsy.”

Senior author on the study, Professor David Henshall, Director of FutureNeuro and Professor of Molecular Physiology and Neuroscience at RCSI said: “The project is a great example of team science, where groups with different areas of expertise combine to create innovative solutions that keep people with epilepsy as the central focus. The discoveries here may be just the tip of the iceberg for new strategies in the treatment of epilepsy. I’m optimistic this can be translated to the clinic.”

Currently, there are more than 20 medications available to treat people with epilepsy. But with epilepsy affecting over 50 million people worldwide there are still some who can’t find the right medication to control their seizures. Before this study, progress had slowed, but with these findings there is new hope for an improved treatment for people with epilepsy.

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