MONDAY, June 15, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- A drug commonly used to prevent rejection in organ transplant patients may be effective against childhood epilepsy, animal studies suggest.
The drug, rapamycin (also known as sirolimus), appears to block seizures in mice with cortical dysplasia, a brain malformation that is a common cause of childhood epilepsy and a frequent reason for pediatric epilepsy surgery, said Gabriella D'Arcangelo, an associate professor in the department of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
"The surgery is not without risks, and while it may help control the seizures, it does not work in all cases," D'Arcangelo said in a news release from the university. "Clearly, there is a pressing need to come up with new strategies for treatment."
In the study, published online in the journal Disease Models and Mechanisms, researchers tested rapamycin, a widely available immunosuppressive, on mice bred to display traits of cortical dysplasia.
"We demonstrated that rapamycin is a novel and effective anti-epileptic agent that suppresses seizures in our mice," D'Arcangelo stated. "And this has raised some hope for the future."
Human trials have not begun; however, patients with tuberous sclerosis, a subtype of cortical dysplasia that causes benign tumors to grow in the brain and other vital organs, are currently taking the drug in a multi-center study in the United States, D'Arcangelo noted in the news release.
Epilepsy, along with stroke and Alzheimer's, is one of the most common neurological diseases in the United States, affecting an estimated 3 million people. More than 326,000 children under the age of 15 have the disorder, and nearly one-third of them do not respond adequately to treatment.
Symptoms include seizures that can last from a few seconds to several minutes and may involve loss of consciousness, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. Uncontrolled seizures and heavy medications in children often lead to cognitive problems.
To learn more about epilepsy, visit the Epilepsy Foundation.