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Universities, Biotechs to Research Epilepsy Treatments

Brain scan (National Institute of Mental Health)

(National Institute of Mental Health)

A consortium of universities and biotechnology companies in Europe are developing a new strategy for treating epilepsy, a neurological disease affecting 50 million people worldwide. The group called EPIXCHANGE includes researchers from Lund University in Sweden, University of Ferrara in Italy, and the biotech companies Bioviron in France and NsGene in Denmark.

Epilepsy covers a range of neural activity ranging from strange sensations and emotions to convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, epilepsy can develop from an abnormality in brain wiring, imbalance of nerve signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters, changes in important features of brain cells called channels, or some combination of these and other factors.

Epilepsy can be controlled through the use of drugs or devices for most people with the disorder, but as many as one-third of people with epilepsy have refractory epilepsy, which means the disorder does not respond well or at all to current treatments. EPIXCHANGE plans to develop treatments for refractory epilepsy using a different approach, namely genetics and viruses to deliver drugs to the brain.

The consortium plans to research the artificial production of neurotransmitter galanin and the neuropeptide Y, which are natural substances in the brain and their effects on epileptic seizures in experimental animals. Both galanin and neuropeptide Y are abundant and implicated in many functions such as cognition, feeding, and regulation of mood. EPIXCHANGE held a workshop in Lund on 10-11 November to discuss the translational value of animal models in research on epilepsy.

The project also plans to test the use of genetically enginereed viruses to deliver neuropeptides into the brain to suppress epileptic seizures. Lund medical professor Merab Kokaia says this approach has already been tried in the U.S. with Parkinson’s disease patients, and EPIXCHANGE plans to perform similar clinical trials with refractory epilepsy patients.

The €1 million ($US 1.27 million) project is funded by a Marie Curie Action Industry-Academia Partnership and Pathways grant.

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