Researchers Building Blocks for Potential Epilepsy Drug in High Fat Diet

Researchers have discovered specific fatty acids, from diet prescribed to children with severe epilepsy, which can be used to control seizures related to epilepsy in children and adults.

Children with severe drug-resistant epilepsy are often kept on diet that is high in fats but low in carbohydrates. This diet, called ketogenic diet, keeps the body perpetually in a kind of starvation mode where the body derives energy by breaking fats. This helps to control the seizures but comes with its own side effects like making the bones weak, curbing growth of children and making them hypoglycemic.

Researchers from Royal Holloway, in collaboration with University College London, identified the key fatty acids in the ketogenic diet that control the seizures. In the future, drugs derived from these specific components of the high-fat diet may help adults control seizures.

"This is an important breakthrough. The family of medium chain fatty acids that we have identified provide an exciting new field of research with the potential of identifying, stronger, and safer epilepsy treatments," said Professor Robin Williams from the Centre of Biomedical Sciences at Royal Holloway.

Approximately 2 million people living in the U.S have epilepsy with another 140,000 developing epilepsy each year. Epilepsy costs about $15 billion to the US economy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

"Epilepsy affects over 50 million people worldwide and approximately a third of these people have epilepsy that is not adequately controlled by our present treatments. This discovery offers a whole new approach to the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsies in children and adults," said Professor Matthew Walker from the Institute of Neurology, University College London.

The new research was based on a model in which drugs are initially tested on simple amoeba that replaces most of the animals used in these tests.

"Animals are often used in the search for new epilepsy treatments. Our work provides a new approach, helping us to reduce reliance on animals and provide potential major improvements in human health," said Professor Williams.