Scientists at the Robarts Research Institute may have found a new avenue of research that could lead to a new treatment for epilepsy. They believe they have found a new way to stop seizures – in a molecule from a Himalayan flower
Former graduate student Nadeem Ashraf approached Robarts scientist Michael Poulter with a man-made molecule. The molecule was identical to those found in the roots of a flower that grows in the Himalayas.
Nadeem knew the molecule had already been studied for 10 years at the International Centre of Chemical and Biological Sciences University of Karachi. The molecule appeared to have a very useful effect.
Michael Poulter described the properties of the molecule as surprising, saying: “It suppresses seizures. It was really quite remarkable.”
The extracted molecule is from the root of the lavender-coloured delphinium denudatum flower. It blocks activity in a type of ion channel in brain cells – called sodium channels. Ion channels are tiny gateways that let particles in and out of the cells. Faulty sodium channels are thought to play a role in causing seizures.
Michael said: “That’s what we know [the root] does and that makes sense. What we don’t know is why this particular drug prevents the progression of the seizures in the animal model. There are other drugs out there that will block sodium channels, but do not stop the progression of the seizures. We still don’t understand that."
The existing epilepsy medications control seizures in around 70 per cent of cases. However, they often come with side-effects such as memory loss, rashes and autoimmune reactions.
Looking ahead, Michael talks about how this drug molecule will progress, hopefully becoming an available treatment for people with epilepsy. He describes the next steps as “the valley of death” – where the molecule will undergo long-term toxicity tests. They are however a few years away from this point yet.
The team has received funding from Ontario Brain Institute and other private-sector investigators to start up a pharmaceutical company. This is so they can commercially develop this drug if it gains approval.
Written by Morgan Mitchell
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