For the large number of people who suffer from drug-resistant epilepsy here is some good news: a pill that can beat back seizures, exactly like what a painkiller does to headaches.
Of the about 50 million epilepsy patients worldwide, 30 per cent do not respond to currently available anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) and need to undergo surgery. The new “on demand” seizure suppressant pill developed by researchers at the University College London (UCL) in the UK may help these patients.
Tested only on rodents so far, these pills make brain cells more sensitive to a compound that is normally inactive. “First, a modified virus is injected into the area of the brain where seizures happen. On ‘command’ from this virus the brain cells makes a protein that is activated by CNO (clozapine-N-oxide), a compound that can be taken as a pill. The activated protein then suppresses the over-excitable brain cells that trigger seizures, but only in the presence of CNO.”
Many treatment-resistant epilepsy patients experience clusters of smaller seizures before being hit by a severe seizure. Prof. Kullman believes that patients could ward off these big attacks by popping the pill in response to these warning signs. The new treatment is completely reversible. That is if the pill produces any side effects all the patient would have to do is stop taking it.
The fact that CNO has a short half-life of just a few hours and only touches the pre-treated epileptic areas of the brain means that it does not affect the whole brain as in the case of seizure-suppressing drugs. It also eliminates the risk of permanent alterations to the brain associated with more invasive treatments.