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ketogenic diet research

Some children with epilepsy who do not respond well to traditional anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) have benefited from the ketogenic diet. This is a high fat, low carbohydrate, protein controlled diet that has been used since the 1920s for the treatment of epilepsy.

Usually the body uses glucose from carbohydrates for its energy source. In the ketogenic diet, the body’s energy comes from particular fats (called ‘ketone bodies’) instead of glucose. For some people this type of ketone-producing diet helps to prevent or reduce the number or severity of seizures. However, though the diet can be very effective in some children, there is currently no means of predicting whether the diet will work in individual cases. There is also limited data available relating to the use of the diet in adults.

Our researchers are carrying out a detailed DNA analysis of two groups of children – those for whom the ketogenic diet has worked, and those who have not responded to the diet. Our overall aim is to identify the genetic factors associated with a positive response to the ketogenic diet, as part of a wider investigation into the genetics of epilepsy and its treatment.

We hope that by isolating the genetic factors that predispose a person to a positive response to the diet, we can explore the possibility of reproducing in other ways the beneficial effects of the diet in epilepsy where seizures remain uncontrolled.

We really need safe and effective new ways to treat epilepsy that does not seem to respond to the treatments we currently have available and use routinely. For some children, the ketogenic diet is very effective. In this project, we are trying to work out why some people respond to the diet while others do not. This might help to target the diet to people whom it might benefit, and might also help us to understand why it works and whether we can reproduce its effect without having to change a person’s diet quite so much.

Professor Sanjay Sisodiya, head of genetics at Epilepsy Society