What Epilepsy Awareness Means for Research and Treatment

About 65 million people around the world live with epilepsy, and many of them don’t receive the treatment they need for their disorder. International Epilepsy Awareness Day aims to educate more people about what epilepsy is, how it looks for different people, and the types of treatment available.

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Epilepsy affects about 65 million around the world, and many don’t get the treatment they need. This article speaks to the importance of understanding and spreading awareness as part of International Epilepsy Awareness Day, which occurs Monday, February 8.

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PRA Health Sciences
PRA Health Sciences

PRA’s neuroscience and pain experts have the knowledge needed to conduct epilepsy research and work toward developing new treatments. Epilepsy, its challenges in research, and treatments are discussed below as part of International Epilepsy Awareness Day, occurring Monday, February 8.

What Is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes patients to experience recurring seizures. The frequency and severity of those seizures vary between patients. For example, grand mal seizures often cause a person to lose consciousness and experience muscle contractions, whereas petit mal seizures might make them lose consciousness for a short period. Other types of epilepsy have subtler symptoms, like focal epilepsy, which often gets overlooked in epilepsy conversations.

With epilepsy, electrical bursts in the brain happen suddenly and interrupt the brain’s normal function, causing a seizure. These interruptions can cause both motor and nonmotor symptoms. We often use antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) to treat seizures, but that type of treatment doesn’t work for everyone.

What Challenges Do We Face with Epilepsy Research?

AEDs often present a challenge for researchers and patients, though we typically use them for epilepsy treatment. Not everyone reacts well to them, and they do not always reduce the incidence of seizures. They can also cause side effects that, even when controlling the seizures, still lower a patient’s quality of life.

Many people do not receive adequate epilepsy treatment. That often happens as a result of misdiagnosis. Symptoms or conditions that often get confused with epilepsy include:

  • Fainting
  • Panic attacks
  • Dissociation

Even correctly diagnosed patients may not receive effective treatment. Epilepsy looks different for each patient, and the right treatment varies. In some cases, we can’t treat the condition with epilepsy medications.

Different problems in the brain cause different types of epilepsy, which makes it challenging to diagnose and effectively treat them. Our neuroscience and pain therapeutic team possesses a broad knowledge of epilepsy.

Beyond the challenges of the disorder itself, societal views and misconceptions about having a long-term illness often cause misinformation about epilepsy to spread. That’s why education is all the more vital to both reducing the stigma and ensuring that we diagnose, treat, and respond to epilepsy better.

How Has Epilepsy Research and Treatment Changed?

We currently know that between 30 percent and 40 percent of epileptic seizures relate to genetic factors. While much of the time we use AEDs to treat them, that isn’t the only effective method. Often, we combine drug therapy with:

  • Deep brain stimulation
  • Vagus nerve stimulation
  • Pharmaceutical CBD
  • Surgery in specific situations
  • Ketogenic diet for pediatric patients

We continue to make new discoveries about epilepsy to improve these therapies. A team from Florida State University College of Medicine discovered an amino acid that could help prevent temporal lobe epileptic seizures. These types of seizures can cause severe, lasting damage, and more effective treatments can offer patients peace of mind.

In 2020, researchers discovered three molecules that may help treat seizures that have not responded to other treatments. These molecules target the elevated microRNAs in the brain in people with epilepsy. Researchers are also looking at neuron function through memory tests to determine how epileptic seizures affect the brain long-term.

Medical Director Ly Ngo said in this interview, “When I was in medical school and I decided to go into neurology, I heard many people say, ‘Why do you even want to be a neurologist? You can’t do anything. You can’t treat anything.’ That isn’t necessarily an accurate view. In many aspects of neurology, such as with migraines and epilepsy, we have come a long way.”

Our neurological experts at PRA may look for biomarkers that predispose a person to epilepsy as part of the work that they do. They use those biomarkers help develop new treatments that could be used to intervene before a person develops this disorder.

PRA previously created a specialized model for a double-blind study across multiple locations to study a new epilepsy drug. Our innovative technology and problem-solving also helped another major pharmaceutical client achieve 50 percent more enrollment than expected in their epilepsy study. We made sure to keep things running on time despite previous delays in the study.

How Does Epilepsy Awareness Help Research?

Awareness is one of the most important pieces of advancing epilepsy research. It puts the focus on the disorder, ensuring that we continue to find new and more effective treatments. The Epilepsy Foundation has created many programs to focus solely on epilepsy research and treatment.

The public and the medical world take notice when we put the focus on a disease or disorder, as we are doing on International Epilepsy Awareness day. In turn, the demand for further research and drug development grows. More attention means more availability of clinical trials and studies and more participants for them, which we need if we want to develop more successful treatments.

To learn more about how the Neurosciences team at PRA is making strides in epilepsy research, get in touch with us by calling 1-919-786-8200, or use our online contact form.

We gather quality, actionable data, utilize novel analytics to inform clinical decision-making, and apply advanced technologies to better understand the patient experience. The patient journey—and improved quality of life—is at the forefront of everything that we do.

Learn more about our expertise in neuroscience and pain.

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