WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- A new study suggests that a sweet-tasting compound called 2DG has great potential as a treatment for epilepsy.
2DG (2-deoxy-glucose) has long been used in radio labeling, medical scanning and cancer imaging studies in humans. But now researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found the substance also blocks the onset of epileptic seizures in laboratory rats.
"We pumped the rats full (of 2DG) and still saw no side effects," said senior author Avtar Roopra, an assistant professor of neurology. "I see 2DG as an epilepsy management treatment much like insulin is used to treat diabetes."
Many of the consequences of seizures observed in humans have also been observed in rats, making them a good model to study.
About 1 percent of the world's population suffers from epilepsy, a neurological condition that makes people susceptible to seizures. In about 30 percent to 50 percent of epilepsy patients, available treatments -- including the removal of parts of the brain's temporal lobe -- are largely ineffective.
Roopra described a snowball effect of seizures and explained how 2DG prevents seizures from occurring.
"When you have a seizure, genes are altered in a way that another seizure is more likely," Roopra told United Press International. "A seizure begets more seizures."
The study suggests that by taking 2DG, a person suffering from epilepsy can reduce their risk of having subsequent seizures.
While this seems to imply that 2DG is powerless to prevent an initial seizure from occurring, Roopra told UPI researchers believe that further experimentation with 2DG may prove that the compound "can actually be used to prevent a first seizure."
The 2DG blocks glycolysis from occurring by entering cells and clogging up certain cellular enzymes. As a result, the body can't use its own glucose.
Glucose -- a type of sugar -- has long been established as a cause of seizures. Recognizing this cause, doctors have prescribed sugar-free diets as a way to prevent seizures for thousands of years.
"The fact that a sugar-free diet can treat seizures has been known since biblical times," Roopra said. "People with epilepsy would be advised to effectively starve themselves and would be given nothing but water."
People suffering from epilepsy are often still prescribed a sugar-free diet as a means of combating their condition. However, adhering to a sugar-free diet can be difficult because of the risk of nutritional deficiencies and the extreme vigilance necessary for the diet to be effective.
Experiments have shown that children on sugar-free diets can rapidly experience seizures when they consume even a small dose of sugar, such as a cookie or a small piece of bread.
Thus, 2DG may have the potential to treat epilepsy without subjecting people to the challenges of a sugar-free diet.
"2DG would be taken on top of ingesting regular amounts of sugar," Roopra said. "The compound shuts down genes involved in epilepsy itself."
Although the compound has been injected into rats, Roopra said that humans would be able to ingest the compound orally. In fact, because of its sweet taste, he suggests that epileptics could simply pour some 2DG into their coffee or tea.
Despite the promise of 2DG, Roopra estimates that it will be five years before the compound is available for human use. It needs to be subjected to toxicity studies and clinical trials before it can receive FDA approval and be made available to the public.