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Published: 2 April 2013

Hope for new epilepsy drugs

Epilepsy expert Professor Ley Sander has given a cautious welcome to pioneering research which offers hope for the development of new treatments for people with epilepsy. Scientists at the University of Sheffield have discovered that a collection of 46 compounds, including some which are used to treat infectious, psychiatric and inflammatory disorders, also have anticonvulsant properties and could  be a starting point for the development of new drugs for treating epilepsy.

The compounds were found to suppress epileptic seizures in two-day-old epileptic zebrafish which are structurally simple and transparent, allowing the behaviour of nerve cells within the brain to be easily viewed in a remarkable level of detail.

Professor Ley Sander

Professor Ley Sander, medical director at Epilepsy Society, said: ‘This is an interesting development and one which may eventually lead to new treatments for some people with epilepsy. However at this point it must be remembered that there is no firm evidence that the zebrafish model truly mimics human epilepsy.’

The project which involved investigating 2,000 compounds, was led by Dr Vincent Cunliffe of the University of Sheffield’s department of biomedical science. He explained: ‘We took advantage of a unique set of features of the zebrafish to look for new anticonvulsant agents within a library of many different types of compounds with a wide range of biological activities.

‘We found that a small number of them had previously unknown anti-convulsant effects. Some of the identified compounds already have a variety of different medical uses in treating conditions such as fungal infections, as well as psychiatric and inflammatory disorders.’

The research, published in the journal Disease Models and Mechanisms, suggests some of these existing drugs could be repurposed for the treatment of epilepsy.