WEDNESDAY, Dec. 14, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists say they have identified a gene network in the brain that's associated with epilepsy.
Although the research is in the early stages, the investigators hope their discovery can revive interest in finding new epilepsy treatments.
"Identifying groups of genes that work together, and then targeting these networks of genes, may lead to more effective treatments," said study senior author Michael Johnson. He's a professor of medicine at Imperial College London in England.
"Our proof-of-concept study suggests this network biology approach could help us identify new medications for epilepsy, and the methods can also be applied to other diseases," Johnson said in a college news release.
The newly discovered "epilepsy network" includes 320 genes believed to be involved in how brain cells communicate with one another. When the network malfunctions, it triggers epilepsy, the scientists said.
Epilepsy is one of the most common serious neurological disorders worldwide, affecting more than 50 million people, Johnson and his colleagues noted. People with the condition suffer seizures of varying severity.
"Despite almost 30 different drugs licensed for the condition, a third of people with epilepsy continue to suffer from uncontrolled epileptic seizures -- despite taking medication," Johnson said.
In the past 100 years, not much progress has been made in finding improved therapies, and many drug companies no longer try to develop new medicines for epilepsy, he added.
Medications that restore normal function in this gene network could provide a new type of treatment, according to Johnson.
"The discovery of this network of genes linked to epilepsy opens avenues for finding new treatments. This uses an approach that is entirely different to the past 100 years of anti-epilepsy drug development," Johnson said.
"Until recently, we have been looking for individual genes associated with diseases, which drug companies then target with treatments," he explained. "However, we are increasingly aware that genes don't work in isolation."
The study was published Dec. 12 in the journal Genome Biology.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on epilepsy.