Originally published in Bench to Bedside, the CHOP Research monthly publication
I composed this original article based on multiple interviews with the investigators.
The little girl’s epilepsy was so debilitating that she was virtually nonresponsive. Traditional antiseizure medicines could not reduce the five to 20 seizures she experienced daily when she first came to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Trying a new approach, her neurologist, David Bearden, MD, prescribed a drug that targeted a molecular pathway involved in her seizures, and within a month, she was seizure-free for the first time since a few days after her birth.
This success excited hope among epilepsy researchers worldwide that other such successful strategies could soon follow. The case exemplifies the popular concept of precision medicine, which is barreling ahead in cancer but not yet common practice in neurologic disorders such as epilepsy.
“Most drugs for epilepsy work like treating pneumonia with a cough suppressant: It may stop the symptom but doesn’t treat the underlying problem,” said Ethan Goldberg, MD, PhD, a CHOP neurologist and neuroscientist who was senior author of a case report about the little girl’s treatment (of which Dr. Bearden was first author) in Annals of Neurology in 2014. Her treatment, while not yet analogous to an antibiotic, was more precisely targeted to the underlying mechanism of her seizures than most treatments.
The future need for precision medicine is one that epilepsy researchers are approaching with conscious attention to the field’s strengths and unmet challenges. Dr. Goldberg was a presenter at a precision medicine scientific symposium during the American Epilepsy Society annual meeting in December. His colleague, Dennis Dlugos, MD, MSCE, a CHOP pediatric neurologist, was among the major contributors to an international consortium of researchers who authored a roadmap for precision medicine in epilepsy published in The Lancet Neurology this fall.