Current treatments for epilepsy are inadequate. Far too many people do not have their seizures controlled: in the UK, 30% of people with epilepsy cannot become seizure-free with current treatments. Many anti-epileptic drugs currently available significantly affect patients’ quality of life due to their side effects. Recent new treatment methods such as vagus nerve stimulation and new surgical techniques are helping, but we have a long way to go yet in optimising treatment for people with epilepsy.
The underlying causes of epilepsy are also still largely a mystery. We do not yet understand why some people are born with a disposition towards epilepsy and others not. We don’t understand how a seizure starts in the first place, or what makes them spread. Finding more information about these phenomena may allow us to find new ways to tackle seizures, by developing new treatments. The only way to find new treatments is through research. There are about 50 million people with epilepsy worldwide, who all need a chance to live a life without seizures.
Scientific research is a very expensive business. It is slow and painstaking. Epilepsy Research UK often provides start-up funds for pilot projects, lasting 1-3 years, allowing researchers to test a new theory. If the work is promising, the researchers then have good data to approach the major funding bodies for more substantial grants. We’re working right on the edges of our knowledge of epilepsy and the human brain.
These are exciting times in research into epilepsy. The analysis of the human genome is allowing scientists to explore in detail the links between our genes and epilepsy. Newer drugs on the market are the latest products of years of research. More and more patients are having surgery for their epilepsy. But we still have a long way to go.