Hebrew University student developing drug to treat epilepsy, migraines, chronic pain

Ph.D. candidate Nina Isoherranen wins Kaye Awards

Nina Isoherranen, a Ph.D. candidate at the Hebrew University School of Pharmacy, was awarded a Kaye Innovation Award this week for developing a new medication to treat epilepsy, migraine headaches, and chronic pain that does not cause birth defects in animal models, unlike other medicines currently used to treat epilepsy.

Ms. Isoherranen explained that 1% of the population suffers from epilepsy, a central nervous system (CNS) disorder that can cause violent seizures. As a result, people suffering from epilepsy take medication throughout their entire life to prevent seizures. Though several medicines have been developed to treat epilepsy, they are not effective on more than 30% of epilepsy patients and cause side effects.

David H. Eisenberg Professor of Pharmacy Meir Bialer, who is supervising Ms. Isoherranen’s work together with Pharmaceutical Chemistry Prof. Boris Yagen, said that they hope to sign a contract with a pharmaceutical company that will allow them to begin clinical trials on the new medication in the next few years. So far the medication has been successfully tested on laboratory animals.

Ms. Isoherranen, Prof. Bialer, and Prof. Yagen, whose areas of expertise include developing antiepileptic and CNS drugs, spent the past four years working on developing an antiepileptic drug that would be more effective and not cause the side effects common to existing antiepileptic drugs.

Ms. Isoherranen explained that valproic acid is one of the most common medicines used to treat epilepsy and is also popular for treating migraine headaches, chronic pain, and manic depression. However, if a woman takes valproic acid while she is pregnant, it increases the chance of a birth defect by 2.5. It also can cause liver problems and weight gain.

Ms. Isoherranen combined valproic acid with taurine, a substance found in the brain that helps to control epilepsy. The end product is more potent than valproic acid and apparently lacks the major side effects, she said.

At 27, Ms. Isoherranen is the youngest of this year’s Kaye Prize recipients. She immigrated to Israel four years ago, after completing a masters degree in analytical chemistry at the University of Helsinki, Finland.

The Kaye Innovation Awards at the Hebrew University have been awarded annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff, and students of the University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential which will benefit the University and society.

Pictures available upon request. For further information, contact:
Heidi Gleit, HU foreign press liaison: tel. 972-2-588-2904; cell, 972-64-454-593; email heidig@savion.cc.huji.ac.il
Orit Sulitzeanu, HU spokeswoman: tel. 972-2-588-2811

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