Eleven new genes associated with epilepsy have been discovered by an international team of scientists, advancing knowledge of the underlying causes of the condition and potentially helping in the development of new treatments.

The study, published in the Nature Communications journal, compared the DNA of more than 15,000 epileptic individuals with around the DNA of around 30,000 people without. The scientists found that most of the current anti-epilepsy drugs on the market target one or more of the newly-found genes, and also found that 166 additional drugs do the same. As these drugs target the genetic basis of the disease, they show promise as new candidates for therapy.

Colin Doherty, national clinical lead for epilepsy and a principal investigator at the FutureNeuro Centre, said that while genetics has long been known to play an important role in epilepsy, until recently not much was known about the particular genes for its most common forms: “Identifying the genes that cause epilepsy is particularly important when we consider that a third of the 65 million patients worldwide will not become seizure free using current treatment options.”

Consultant neurologist Norman Delanty, FRCPI, associate professor at RCSI, FutureNeuro, and Beaumont Hospital, added: “In addition to the biological insights provided by the findings, this study will encourage researchers to develop personalised and precision therapies for patients with difficult and complex epilepsy. This will provide better seizure control and will enable improved quality of life for patients and families.”

Another of the researchers, Dr Sam Berkovic from the University of Melbourne, detailed the future for the research: “The next steps would be expanding these results in an even larger sample, which is underway, and then drilling down on specific groups of patients and the genes that influence their type of epilepsy to trial new therapies.”