Research gives hope of safer epilepsy and bipolar drug

Valproic acid has been linked with increased risk of birth defects.
Valproic acid has been linked with increased risk of birth defects.

The discovery of a link between the treatment of epilepsy and bipolar disorder could lead to the development of safer drugs, research suggests.

Valproic acid is commonly used for patients with both conditions but has been associated with an increased chance of birth defects if taken during pregnancy.

The researchers from the Royal Holloway found a single protein, diacylglycerol kinase (DGK), appeared to be affected by the medicine.

They suggest the protein could provide a target for drugs with fewer side effects in the future, and have identified compounds which appear to affect it in the same way.

Professor Robin Williams, head of the centre for biomedical sciences at the Royal Holloway, said medics have been “desperately looking” for alternatives to valproic acid.

“This protein has previously been associated with both conditions, however, our research has been the first to suggest that it may be the key linking the treatment of both disorders,” he said.

“Now that we understand how valproic acid works, we have been able to design potential new drugs that would be effective in treating both conditions, without causing birth defects.

“Successfully developing these new drugs would be potentially life-changing for women who want to have children but depend on valproic acid to manage their condition.”

The findings are published in the journal Disease Models & Mechanisms.