Dr. Steven Schachter, Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School (HMS), and Associate Director of Clinical Research at the HMS Division for Resarch and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies, recently received a research grant from Epilepsy Therapy Project to lead a study on East Asian herbs as a potential source of new antiseizure medications. The following is an interview with Dr. Schachter conducted by epilepsy.com editor Jenna Martin.
Q. You’ve just recently been awarded a translational research grant by Epilepsy Therapy Project to explore the use of Asian herbs as potential new therapies for the treatment of epilepsy. Can you explain the overall goals of this study?
A. The main goal of the study is to scientifically study herbs and combinations of herbs that have traditionally been used over a number of centuries in East Asia to treat seizures. The research during this grant will be in animals and in scientific laboratories. The ultimate goal is to discover new compounds that could possibly undergo further testing in people with epilepsy.
Q. What is the design as well as the methodology of your study?
A. Once we identify herbs and combinations of herbs that we would like to study, we will obtain them from our colleagues in China and Japan and send them to the Anticonvulsant Screening Program (ASP) at the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, who will submit them for animal experiments at the University of Utah. The animal experiments are the same ones that have been used to test experimental seizure drugs. Those herbs or combinations of herbs that appear to have anti-seizure effects in the animal experiments will then undergo a second round of experiments at Harvard Medical School called high-throughput screens.
Q. What herbs will you studying?
A. It is too soon for me to identify specific herbs, but our criteria in selecting herbs include clinical recommendations of senior herbal experts in China and Japan; electronic database searches; review of original references in traditional textbooks of medicine from China and Japan; promising results from published clinical trials; and availability of high-quality specimens.
Q. Can you define in simple terms what high-throughput screens are?
A. High-throughput screens are a way to quickly evaluate a large number of compounds, or in this case, herbal extracts, to determine how they may work in biological systems. We are particularly interested in looking at biological systems involved in protecting brain cells from damage.
Q. What is the potential significance of your proposed work?
A. If our work is successful, we might identify one or more compounds derived from one or more herbs that could then undergo further testing to determine if they may be suitable as medications to treat seizures.
Q. What sets your study apart from many is your multi-international team of clinical researchers. How was this team assembled?
A. This research is made possible by the collaboration of scientists at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Beijing), the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Keio University (Japan). I was introduced to these collaborators by David Eisenberg, MD, the director of the Harvard Medical School Division for Research and Education in Complementary & Integrative Medical Therapies. Dr. Eisenberg had already established a working collaboration with these individuals through an NIH grant. When we all met last June in Japan, we started to work on this project.
Q. How long is your study expected to run?
A. The initial phase will be one year. We hope to extend the research if our initial results are promising.