Three recently uncovered molecules have the potential to be developed into drugs to treat epilepsy that otherwise cannot be controlled with current treatments, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Epilepsy is among the most common brain diseases, affecting more than 65 million people worldwide, according to the press release. With more than 20 medicines available to prevent seizures in people with epilepsy, the majority of cases can be well controlled. However, progress has slowed and new treatments offer little benefit over older ones, according to the study. 

The multinational study was led by FutureNeuro, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Chronic and Rare Neurological Diseases and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland University of Medicine and Health Sciences. The sequencing project is one of the largest of its kind, according to the press release. 

The 7 years of research measured levels of more than 1 billion strands of microRNAs to see whether they were changed in epilepsy. A small set of microRNAs always evaluated in epilepsy were designed into drug-like molecules. The molecules were synthesized by chemists to target the microRNAs. 

Of this set, 3 of the molecules were found to stop seizures in preclinical tests. According to the press release, computer simulations showed the potential treatments influenced molecule networks in brain cells by altering the inflammatory response. The inflammatory response is part of the brain’s immune system and is believed to contribute to seizures. 

"By characterizing and targeting an entire new class of molecules in epilepsy, we hope to develop novel and innovative treatment strategies for temporal lobe epilepsy…This is an important step closer to fulfilling the urgent and unmet clinical needs for the one-third of people whose seizures are resistant to currently available drugs," study co-lead author and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Fellow at FutureNeuro, Gareth Morris, PhD, said in the press release.  

Study co-authors said they hope the new treatments can lead to fewer adverse effects and new strategies in treating epilepsy. 

Reference:

Three potential new targets for treating epilepsy (News Release), Dublin, Ireland, June 25, 2020, ScienceDaily, Accessed July 15, 2020