Hope for Epilepsy Patients, But Treatment Gap Exists Worldwide

neuronThe past week brought both a scientific breakthrough and disheartening news in the field of epilepsy. A new discovery may change the way epilepsy is treated, but if current evidence is any indication, getting the treatment to patients will be a challenge.

A recently published study may be able to explain why some epilepsy patients do not respond to drug therapy. Researchers at Newcastle University, for the first time, were able to record spontaneous epileptic activity in brain tissue that had been removed during neurosurgery. They found that a particular brain wave pattern associated with epilepsy is caused by electrical connections between nerve cells, rather than by chemical connections. The findings imply that traditional epilepsy drugs are useless for these patients.

Patients with epilepsy are traditionally treated with anti-seizure medication. However, medication does not work for about 30 percent of patients.  People in this category may have to undergo neurosurgery to remove the brain tissue that is causing the seizures. Dr Mark Cunningham, who led the team at Newcastle, said that the findings represent an important step toward finding new epilepsy treatments in the future.

Unfortunately, the majority of patients with epilepsy are not getting treated now.  Steven C. Schachter, president of the American Epilepsy Society (AES), announced this week that there is an enormous treatment gap among the 50 million patients worldwide who suffer from epilepsy.  Schacter, speaking at the AES 63rd Annual Meeting, noted that three-quarters of epilepsy patients do not get any treatment whatsoever for their seizures. If left untreated, seizures can lead to disability and death.

Recent studies have found that mood disorders and drug toxicity have a stronger effect on patients’ quality of life than the frequency or severity of seizures. A number of companies are working to develop epilepsy treatments that are more effective and better tolerated. In July, OneMedPlace reported that MedTronic had filed for pre-market approval for its implantable device to treat drug-resistant epilepsy. Another implantable device, Vagus Nerve Therapy (VNS) by Cyberonics, is the only FDA-approved treatment for refractory epilepsy. A recent study at New York University’s Langone Medical Center found VNS Therapy significantly reduced seizures in patients with this particular type of epilepsy. Other companies developing treatments for epilepsy include MedGenesis Therapeutix, Newron Pharmaceuticals and D-Pharm Ltd.

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