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Epilepsy, Stroke Vaccine Shows Promise


Much more study will be needed before the vaccine can be tested in humans. During suggests that the first patients to test should be those with an exceptionally high risk of brain damage from a stroke because they have inoperable brain aneurysms -- small blood vessels that balloon out and threaten to burst.

"If it works in that group of patients, we would do it with surgery patients who run a high risk of stroke [such as patients having heart bypass surgery] and then step by step move back into a broader population group until we include anyone at a higher risk of stroke [such as patients with elevated cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure]," During says.

NMDA expert John H. Krystal tells WebMD that drugs that block NMDA are being studied for a wide variety of ailments. "The range of uses for [these drugs] is much broader than just epilepsy and stroke," says Krystal, professor of psychiatry at Yale University. "People are interested in applying [them] to psychiatric disorders and substance abuse, and there are potential uses of these drugs as protective agents for other disorders such as dementia, Parkinson's disease, and Huntington's chorea. A question people have struggled with is how to make these drugs more tolerable because most will [disrupt thinking] and perception."

Krystal says the vaccine study opens up the "exciting possibility" that NMDA could be blocked only at the specific places and times abnormal brain activity occurs. But he points out that NMDA is just one part of a complex system, and that multiple approaches -- perhaps including both drugs and vaccines -- may be needed.

Vital Information:

  • A new vaccine -- tested only in mice -- can prevent seizures and brain damage due to stroke.
  • The vaccine works by stimulating the production of antibodies to a brain protein, called NMDA, which is a link in the chain of events leading to brain damage.
  • These antibodies naturally go to where any abnormal brain activity occurs and block the action of NMDA.
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