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Internal News - 21 November 2005

Research offers new hope for controlling rare form of infantile epilepsy

Hormone-based treatments could have long term development benefits for children who suffer with infantile spasms, according to research published in The Lancet Neurology this month.

The pioneering study looked at alternative forms of treatment for this rare form of epilepsy in children aged from 2 - 12 months. It involved following 107 infants from 150 hospitals across the UK.

Initial results showed that hormonal treatment for epilepsy was more effective in controlling spasms in these young children than a conventional anti-epileptic medicine called vigabatrin during the first 14 days of their treatment.

The latest results have shown that overall the hormone treatment controls infantile spasms better initially but not at 12 - 14 months. But the study went on to show that for some children hormone treatment may lead to improved development outcome.

“This form of epilepsy is awful for parents as children withdraw and go into a world of their own,” said Professor John Osborne from the Royal United Hospital Bath and the University of Bath.

“Many children become seriously handicapped as a result. Our first study showed that using hormonal treatments did help control the spasms faster but we needed to know if this might lead to better developmental progress.

“This latest report looked at the children up to 14 months of age. It is the first study in the world to look at the development of all of the children. Because of the exciting prospect that the treatment may have led to better development, we have gone back to the families when the infants are older to see if their development is still better. These results also look very promising.

”As a result we are beginning a second study which will try to improve things further for these children. Protecting a child’s development has to be one of the most important things we can do for any parent. Although the second study has been funded by the Castang Foundation, we need to raise £500,000 to further develop the research into infantile epilepsy over the next few years. ”

Others researchers involved in the project include Dr Stuart Edwards and Dr Andrew Lux, a consultant paediatric neurologist in Bristol, both of whom are from the University of Bath, and also Dr Finbar O’Callaghan, a consultant paediatric neurologist in Bristol and Bath and a former lecturer at the University of Bath.