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Epilepsy focus shifts to prevention and cure

18 December, 2000

For the last six decades, the focus of epilepsy treatment has been on stopping the seizures that are the symptoms of the disease. Now, a fundamental change of direction is occurring, with scientists focusing on the prevention of the disease and finding new treatments for underlying conditions in the brain, which ultimately, they hope, will cure epilepsy.

Speaking at the annual American Epilepsy Society meeting in Los Angeles, Dr Mark Dichter, neuroscientist from the University of Pennsylvania and former president of the society said, "This is the first time we are putting the words 'epilepsy' and 'cure' together."

A number of advances in the field, including new imaging technologies and more genetic information about the condition, have contributed to this "revolution in strategy" according to a report presented in March at the 'Curing Epilepsy: Focus on the Future' conference held at the National Institute of Health.

One outcome of the March conference was the development of Benchmarks. "Benchmarks are a way of identifying scientific priorities and directions for future research," said Dr. Margaret Jacobs, programme director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, in an update at the American Epilepsy Society conference.

The benchmarks, developed jointly by the government, advocacy groups and industry, are to:

  • Understand the basic mechanisms of epileptogenesis
  • Create and implement new therapies aimed at prevention of epilepsy in patients at risk; and
  • Create and implement new therapies free of side effects that are aimed at the cessation of seizures in patients with epilepsy.

"Because epilepsy differs by age and gender, future research needs to take these factors into account," Dr. Solomon Moshe, president-elect of the American Epilepsy Society said.