New molecule shows potential in epilepsy drug monitoring

A new system of monitoring responses to treatment among epilepsy patients has demonstrated early potential, according to newly-published research.

Scientists from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have published a paper in the Nature Chemical Biology journal showing how a simple new molecule-based solution can easily and quickly show how much of a drug is in a patient's system.

The novel biosensor molecule works by binding to the drug circulating in the patient's bloodstream and changing colour accordingly. When the targeted drug is absent a red light is created, which changes to blue in proportion to the concentration of the medication.

Doctors or even the patients themselves can record the signal very easily by putting a drop of blood on to a piece of paper, placing it in a dark box and photographing it with a conventional camera. The picture can then be analysed by colour-measuring software to generate an average calculation.

By comparing this measurement to a standard drug-concentration curve, it becomes simple to calculate the drug concentration in a sample or a patient's bloodstream. The sensor molecule can be used with virtually any kind of drug.

To test their system, the EPFL scientists using six commercially available drugs, including an anti-epileptic drug, three immunosuppressants, an anti-arrhythmic therapy and an anti-cancer agent.

In all six cases, the signal was shown to be accurate and very stable, lasting for more than ten minutes.

Rudolf Griss, one of the authors of the study, said: "This system is a cheap, effective solution for customising drug dosage in patients across a whole array of diseases. We envision a simple handheld detector where the patient can take a pinprick of blood and can have an immediate reading of free drug concentration in their system – much like diabetics do now for blood glucose."

Following the publication of this study, Mr Griss and co-author Alberto Schena will be developing a startup company in order to streamline and commercialise the innovation, meaning it could be made available for patient use in the near future.

This could greatly aid efforts to develop personalised treatments for epilepsy, which is an increasingly important technique. It allows patients to receive therapies that are specifically tailored to their symptoms, drug history and genetic biomarkers.

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