Hope grows for epilepsy patients as clinical trial enters next phase


Pictured: Professor Mark Cook and Natalie Booth 

A few weeks ago Natalie Booth and her husband, Alex, proudly put up a sold sticker on the block of land they’d just bought.

The young couple would soon be building their dream home together and couldn’t stop smiling. They were even happier to be realising a dream they thought Natalie’s chronic health condition might never give her a chance to enjoy.

Natalie, 31, was diagnosed with severe epilepsy when she was in primary school. Over the years she became increasingly disheartened as doctors tried every medication available to treat her condition without success.

Her outlook on life is now a lot more positive after participating in Phase 1 of an epilepsy trial led by St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s Head of Neurology, Professor Mark Cook.

The world-first epilepsy project developed through ACMD – a collaborative biomedical engineering research centre based at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne – in conjunction with Cerebral Therapeutics, aims to help people like Natalie who suffer with drug-resistant focal seizures.

It involves a targeted delivery of anti-seizure medication straight to the brain via a long-term abdominal pump implant that eliminates previous issues experienced with drug absorption and uptake barriers.

“I feel like I have been given a second chance,” says Natalie, who has been seizure-free for the past two years. “We’re now even talking about starting a family – something I never considered because of my epilepsy.”

The future is looking bright

Like Natalie, Adam Daly, who also suffers with drug-resistant focal seizures, took part in Phase 1 of this life-changing epilepsy trial.

Adam was diagnosed when he was 26 after sustaining a head injury when a water tank exploded at a work site almost 15 years ago.

Since then, he has suffered severe daily seizures and was frequently hospitalised for them, sometimes weekly.

These regular seizures forced Adam to give up working and his wife, Kathryn, also had to give up her job to become his fulltime carer.

“This treatment has meant I will be able to work once more, instead of sitting in the house looking at the same four walls every day going crazy and wondering when the next seizure is going to happen,” says Adam, who has lived a seizure-free life since having the abdominal pump fitted.

Another step closer

Phase 2B of the trial is now currently underway and builds on the promising results of earlier testing.

Prof Cook describes it as a very exciting stage that allows them to extend the treatment to much larger groups.

“The first phase is an exploration stage. Now we get to take this treatment out to more people with the view of ultimately it becoming a widely accepted routine treatment for refractory epilepsy worldwide,” Prof Cook says.

Recruitment for this final testing phase is being carried out across national sites based in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.

About 50 patients are expected to take part, with the first patient from Phase 2B scheduled to have the abdominal implant fitted next month.

For more information on the trial, including recruiting criteria and sites for Phase 2B, potential patients are encouraged to speak with their neurologist or visit www.mrtlestudy.com.