Experts Meet to Discuss the Future of Epilepsy
"We may be able to prevent the development of epilepsy in the next 10 or 20 years with those cases that develop following a given insult to the brain," says Pedley. Some of the most promising research is in gene therapy. It's thought as many as 500 genes may be involved in epilepsy, in some case simply heightening susceptibility.
However, the repair may not be as simple as inserting a healthy gene into the brain because the organ is so complex and sensitive. For example, a gene that turns on a protein to control seizures also may have a big effect on memory or behavior.
"I call it gene-specific therapy, which to me means we know what your problem is, and we will give you a custom-made therapy for that gene," says Jeffrey Noebels, MD, PhD, a neurogeneticist from the Baylor College of Medicine. He's managed to engineer mice with human epilepsy that may reveal why it is that some genes seem to initiate the disease, then mysteriously shut down. In the end, he says, it may be drugs made from genes that provide the best approach.
"So we really are hoping through these animal models to cure certain kinds of epilepsy," Noebels tells WebMD, although such treatments might be a decade away. Also in the future, an implanted brain pacemaker that could shock errant neurons back on track. Tiny molecular machines may be developed that can circulate in a patient's brain, dispensing just the right drug dose to the precise location without much in the way of side effects.
Currently, the NINDS budget for epilepsy research is $82 million, even though the disease hasn't gotten the attention of many other high-profile diseases.