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31 March 2016

Researchers modify epilepsy drug to reduce side effects

Researchers have designed a more effective version of retigabine,  a drug used to treat epilepsy, offering the potential for fewer side effects.

Scientists from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Arts & Sciences were able to refine the existing epilepsy treatment to make it more effective.

Epilepsy drugs usually work by influencing the transport of sodium, potassium and chloride ions across the nerve cell membrane to reduce the excitability of brain cells, thereby reducing the threat of seizures.

Thanos Tzounopoulos, PhD, senior investigator on the project explained: "Unfortunately, these drugs don't work well in nearly a third of patients and there is a great need for better treatments.  We have been able to refine an existing medication so that it acts selectively on certain nerve cell membrane transport channels, which should make it more effective."

The available drug is called retigabine, and while it has improved symptoms for some patients, it can also lead to troublesome side effects, including retinal abnormalities, urinary retention and skin discoloration. 

Whereas standard retigabine works by activating multiple transport channels, the researchers redesigned the drug's structural components so that they only focused on stabilising the cell membrane of brain cells involved in disorders such as epilepsy.

The modified drug has been named RL-81, and because of its specificity it should cause fewer side effects in patients.