At NYU, epilepsy research investigations are expanding and emphasizing two new areas of research. One area is on the imaging aspects of epilepsy. Our research over the past 10 years have been devoted to using high field magnets and advanced imaging techniques to unravel the underlying causes of epilepsy. We have begun our collaborative efforts and with external funding have started a number of pilot projects to measure a number of metabolites and neurotransmitters in the brain. Specifically, we are studying if Glutamate, the most important excitatory transmitter in the brain, is abnormally elevated in regions causing seizures.
Other imaging projects include measuring GABA or gamma acidic butyric acid, the most abundant inhibitory transmitter in the brain, at seizure onset and using GABA levels as a marker for seizure prognosis. The above research will be complemented by the use of Magnetoencephalography or MEG, a novel development for brain mapping which will be available to NYU researchers next spring. With MEG, tiny magnetic field potentials can be measured with the great advantage of providing the best time resolution of any imaging technique. Combined with MRI and other techniques, MEG can provide a new window into brain function using totally non-invasive techniques. As we go to press, we are starting an NIH sponsored study with Harvard University using MEG, MRI and direct brain recordings in hope of understanding the mechanisms underlying brain function.
The second area is devoted to novel therapeutics or new forms of treatment. As we all know, treatment of epilepsy is primarily based on oral or systemic drug use. All drugs have specific side effects since they have to go through the liver and other organs before reaching the brain. In addition, many drugs that are potentially anticonvulsants may not have the ability to enter the brain. A novel approach is to directly deliver drugs into the brain tissue or the surrounding brain fluid. This method has the potential for minimizing side effects since the amount of drug to be delivered is 1/100 or 1/1000 times smaller than the one needed if taken orally. The other advantage of direct drug delivery is that many potential drugs not used due to systemic toxicity could be used for the treatment of epilepsy. NYU researchers are beginning the planning phase for animal studies devoted at investigating new drug delivery devices and new drugs for epilepsy. This is an exciting development for epilepsy and promises to open a new area of treatment. One of the most exciting projects now under way is development of a drug delivery system to the central nervous system. This device would have an implanted electrode that could either predict or recognize the occurrence of seizures and then release a drug to this specific area from which seizures arose on a demand basis. The drug would only be released shortly before or during a seizure to either prevent the seizure or stop it from occurring. We are still in the preliminary phase of this project although considerable work has been done in this area, and we are hoping to bring this project to NYU in the near future. If successful, this project could have a great impact on epilepsy therapy and potentially for treatment of other brain disorders.
Finally, FACES is devoted to support epilepsy research through collaboration with many other funding agencies. FACES is also one of the principal members in the partnership for pediatric epilepsy research. Together with the Epilepsy Foundation, the American Epilepsy Society, PACE, and several families, the partnership has awarded numerous grants over the past several years to scientists throughout the United States who are dedicated to studying the mechanisms underlying epilepsy and, most importantly, trying to identify avenues for therapeutic advances. Orrin Devinsky, M.D. is the co-director of the scientific advisory board for the Epilepsy Cure Project. Support from FACES has helped to make his time available to spend this leadership role for the Epilepsy Cure Project.
With an annual budget exceeding $1.5 million the Epilepsy Cure Project has taken an exciting and active role in identifying and funding translational research opportunities. In doing so, the Epilepsy Cure Project has catalyzed the movement of ideas and research at a basic science level in universities towards real therapeutic advances for people with epilepsy, hopefully in a shorter time frame than might be expected through traditional mechanisms. The Epilepsy Cure Project also has commercialization grants allowing companies to focus their research on epilepsy related treatments. The Epilepsy Cure Project also sponsors epilepsy.com, an in depth site for information about epilepsy for patients and their families as well as for professionals involved in the care of people with epilepsy. Finally, the Epilepsy Cure Project will also make direct investments into companies with exciting programs for the development of epilepsy therapies.