LosartanAn over-the-counter drug may prevent epilepsy from developing in its early stages, UC Berkeley researchers discovered, marking this treatment of epilepsy as the first of its kind.

Epilepsy is a chronic disorder defined by frequent seizures or short episodes of involuntary trembling that can affect the entire body. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 50 million people in the world suffer from epilepsy. The disorder often develops in patients who have experienced brain injuries or stroke, and no known effective clinical treatment exists for the disorder.

But researchers at UC Berkeley and abroad believe a clinical treatment exists for epilepsy. Losartan, a common drug used to treat hypertension, or high blood pressure, can block the development of epilepsy and eradicate it completely, said Daniela Kaufer, a campus associate professor of integrative biology who heads the international collaboration of researchers.

“It’s a one-time dose at the right time,” Kaufer said, referring to losartan’s potential to eliminate epilepsy if administered early in the disorder’s development.

The findings, which accrue a decade’s worth of research, were published in the March issue of Annals of Neurology, a scientific journal. Kaufer worked with co-authors Alon Friedman, an associate professor in the department of physiology and neurobiology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, and Uwe Heinemann, a professor of neurophysiology at Charite — University Medicine in Germany.

To test the effectiveness of losartan, researchers applied the drug on cell cultures before advancing onto the brains of rats and mice. After placing losartan in the rats’ drinking water, researchers discovered that the ingested drug decreased the severity of seizures.

Epilepsy can be triggered by damage to the blood-brain barrier, which is a network of vessels that protects the brain from toxic substances. Losartan functions by entering the brain through the torn blood-brain barrier, where it then blocks the signaling of a specific protein in the brain to prevent seizure development.

Looking forward, the team plans to advance to clinical trials within the next few years, said Guy Bar-Klein, one of the researchers and a doctorate student at Ben-Gurion University. Researchers also plan to continue working in the lab to study the development of epilepsy, especially forms of the disorder that do not arise after brain injury or stroke. They also hope to pinpoint biomarkers, which are indicators that determine whether a patient will develop epilepsy following a brain injury.

Researchers hope that once clinical trials are complete, patients who have suffered traumatic brain injury or stroke can be administered losartan to prevent the development of epilepsy.