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Student wins award for new medication

15 July, 2002

A student at the Hebrew University School of Pharmacy in Jerusalem has been awarded a Kaye Innovation Award for developing a new medication to treat epilepsy, migraine headaches and chronic pain that does not cause birth defects in animal models, unlike other medicines currently used to treat epilepsy.

The student, Nina Isoherranen, explained that though several medicines have been developed to treat epilepsy, they are not effective on more than 30 per cent of epilepsy patients and cause side effects.

Ms Isoherranen, along with professors at the university, have spent the past four years working on developing an anti-epileptic drug that would be more effective and not cause the side effects common to existing antiepileptic drugs.

Ms Isoherranen explained that valproic acid is one of the most common medicines used to treat epilepsy and is also popular for treating migraine headaches, chronic pain, and manic depression. However, if a woman takes valproic acid while she is pregnant, it increases the chance of a birth defect. It also can cause liver problems and weight gain.

In her research, Ms Isoherranen combined valproic acid with taurine, a substance found in the brain that helps to control epilepsy. The end product is more potent than valproic acid and apparently lacks the major side effects, she said.

The researchers hope to sign a contract with a pharmaceutical company that will allow them to begin clinical trials on the new medication in the next few years. So far the medication has been successfully tested on laboratory animals.