Discovery using non-sentient model offers new treatment for epilepsy

New drugs derived from components of a specific diet used by children with severe, drug-resistant epilepsy could offer a new treatment, according to NC3Rs funded research published in the journal Neuropharmacology.

Scientists from Royal Holloway, in collaboration with University College London, have identified specific fatty acids that have potent anti-epileptic effects, which could help control seizures in children and adults. The discovery could lead to the replacement of the ketogenic diet, which is often prescribed for children with severe drug-resistant epilepsy. The high fat, low carbohydrate diet is thought to mimic aspects of starvation by forcing the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. Although often effective, the diet has attracted criticism, as side effects can be significant and potentially lead to constipation, hypoglycaemia, retarded growth and bone fractures. By pinpointing fatty acids in the ketogenic diet that are effective in controlling epilepsy, the researchers hope that they can develop a pill for children and adults that could provide similar epilepsy control, but lacks the side effects of the diet.

The research builds on work funded by the NC3Rs in which most of the animal testing normally used in drug development for epilepsy has been replaced by using the single-celled, soil-dwelling amoeba Dictyostelium. Professor Robin Williams from the Centre of Biomedical Sciences at Royal Holloway has established Dictyostelium as a novel, non-sentient model system to initially screen and identify improved treatments. This has helped to reduce by thousands the number of mice and rats used in epilepsy drug development.

Professor Williams said: "Animals are often used in the search for new epilepsy treatments. Our work provides a new approach, helping us to reduce reliance on animals and provide potential major improvements in human health."

The specific fatty acids identified in this work are the subject of a patent application, and Royal Holloway is seeking commercial collaborators to pursue the potential for new drug development.



Changa P, Terbacha N, Plantb N, Chena P, Walker M, Williams RSB (2012) Seizure control by ketogenic diet-associated medium chain fatty acids. Neuropharmacology, In Press.

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