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Breakthrough in childhood epilepsy

13 November, 2000

Research published in the latest edition of The Lancet medical journal supports recent findings by doctors that children with severe myoclonic epilepsy in infancy (SMEI) can see a reduction in the frequency of seizures by taking the drug stiripentol, reports BBC News.

Children with SMEI develop seizures usually in their first year of life and are not able to control the seizures using conventional anti-epileptic drugs. Problems with the child's mental development also occur, usually by the age of two.

Researchers from Hôpital Saint Vincent de Paul in Paris carried out a trial involving 41 children with SMEI. They were all given clobazam and valproate for one month, then for a further two months, one half of the group were also given stiripentol and the other half were given a placebo.

During the third month of the trial, the frequency of seizures was reduced by at least half in 71 per cent of those who were taking stiripentol. Nine of these children had no seizures at all. In the group taking the placebos, the number of children whose seizures by half was just 5 per cent (one child).

The 21 patients taking stiripentol had side effects such as loss of appetite and drowsiness, but in 12 of these cases the side effects disappeared when the dose of co-medication was increased.

The researchers have stressed that anti-epileptic drugs must be tested on children before it can be said for certain that they will work, or are appropriate to children. Currently many trials are only carried out on adults and it is assumed that the results apply also to children. They said:

"The results obtained in adults cannot be extrapolated to children because some epilepsy syndromes do not exist in adults and tolerability can be different according to age."