Pre-clinical trials have shown the drug sodium selenate slows the progression of changes in the brain that cause epilepsy.
Professor Terry O’Brien, a neurologist from the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the study’s lead author, said head injuries were one of the most common causes of long-term disability in young people.
“What happens after a head injury is there is some immediate damage that occurs to the brain, but then there’s also a whole cascade of biochemical events that occur, which result in downstream long-term progressive damage,” he said.
“Which include epilepsy, which we’re particularly interested in, but also problems with thinking, emotional problems.
“And what this work that we’ve just published has shown is that if by targeting one of these particular biochemical changes, that’s an increase in the protein tau, you can prevent many of these long-term downstream consequences.”
Drug could be taken before to prevent injury
Professor O’Brien said the research went a long way in “completely preventing a number of the changes.”
The work so far has been pre-clinical and conducted on rodents.
“But we’ve also been trialling in patients in Alzheimer’s disease, because this protein is also known to be particularly important in the degeneration that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.
“And in many ways the same sort of problems are seen in patients with Alzheimer’s diseases as seen after a head injury.”
Professor O’Brien said sodium selenate could “potentially” be used as a preventative.
“That’s a very exciting possibility,” he said.
“What we see is a very large surge in an abnormal form of this protein tau straight after a head injury.
“The drug targets an enzyme that can prevent that, so what we think people could do is potentially take sodium selenate, even potentially in a sports drink, before they go out to expose themself to risk of head injury such as in contact sports.
Present medications only suppress seizures
Professor O’Brien said there were already drugs available to suppress seizures, but that existing treatments did nothing to change the underlying process.
“If someone stops the drug, or misses the drug, or even 20 years later comes off the drug, they’re just as likely to have a seizure as if they never took it,” he said.
“And about a third of people continue to have seizures even despite taking these medications regularly.
“So the Holy Grail is to try and invent a treatment that modifies the disease processes.
“The concept is absolutely the Holy Grail. That’s what the whole epilepsy field is focused on.”
The study has been published in the journal Brain.