Determined to bring relief to seizure victims, a Michigan State University research team this month begins a groundbreaking clinical drug trial that could help prevent a quarter-million African children from developing epilepsy each year.
It will be the first test of the anti-seizure medication levetiracetam, or LVT, for controlling seizures caused by cerebral malaria, a severe form of the disease that affects brain function in some three million children, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.
About one in 10 children who survive cerebral malaria are left with epileptic seizures, said the trial's lead researcher Gretchen Birbeck, a professor of neurology and ophthalmology in the College of Osteopathic Medicine.
"This trial is aimed at improving seizure control with the hope of finding a path toward epilepsy prevention," Birbeck said. "Since oral LVT is relatively affordable for short-term use and feasibly could be delivered in resource-limited settings, this therapy could potentially be scaled up for broad use throughout malaria endemic African countries."
The trial will include about 40 children in Malawi. If all safety standards are met, dosage will be increased until 75 percent of the children are free of seizures for 24 hours.
A wireless EEG monitoring device the size of a deck of cards will tell the researchers if LVT is keeping the children seizure-free. Developed by New York-based biotechnology firm BioSignal Group, the device can be worn on the child's arm and transfers data in real-time to a computer, where it quickly can be analyzed and shared with colleagues.
"Unfortunately, many children with cerebral malaria continue to have seizures with no clinical evidence that seizures are occurring, but their brains still are being affected," said Birbeck, who also is director of MSU's International Neurologic and Psychiatric Epidemiology Program. "To evaluate the effectiveness of LVT, we need continuous EEG monitoring, which is very tough to do even in the best environment."