Conference Coverage

Novel neural cell therapy: A cure for focal epilepsy?



BOSTON – An experimental neural cell therapy is safe and led to greater than 90% reduction in seizures in two patients with drug-resistant mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (MTLE) in the first-in-human test of the novel therapy.

“It is notable that the early significant seizure reduction observed in this study appears to be durable in these first two patients treated with a single administration of NRTX-1001,” principal investigator Robert Beach, MD, PhD, said in a news release.

“It is also encouraging that the first patient has been free from disabling seizures from the second month on and has shown improved memory performance on multiple cognitive tests, as memory problems can be an issue for individuals with drug-resistant MTLE,” said Dr. Beach, chief of epilepsy and professor of neurology at State University of New York, Syracuse.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

Restorative not destructive

NRTX-1001 therapy (Neurona Therapeutics) is a one-time dose of an injectable suspension of high-purity inhibitory interneurons that secrete the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The interneurons are intended to integrate and innervate on-target, providing long-term GABAergic inhibition to repair hyperexcitable neural networks.

Preclinical work in animal models of epilepsy has provided strong support for both the safety and the efficacy of boosting inhibition in the seizure focus using implanted human inhibitory interneurons.

This therapy is “potentially restorative instead of just destructive, like epilepsy surgery,” study investigator David Spencer, MD, professor of neurology and director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, said during a press briefing.

In the first two patients, the cells were implanted in the seizure focus using MRI guidance through a tiny opening in the back of the skull. The patients recovered overnight and went home the next day.

The first patient had a 9-year history of drug-resistant epilepsy and was averaging 30 seizures per month at baseline. Testing confirmed that the seizures were coming from a single focus on the right temporal lobe. The implant was uncomplicated, and the cells were delivered to the seizure focus on target.

To date, there have been no serious or unexpected adverse events from the implant. At 9 months of follow-up the patient has had a 93% reduction in seizures overall and is free of all seizures causing impairment of awareness, “which was the most debilitating seizure type for this patient,” Dr. Spencer noted.

Studies of brain metabolism in the area of the implant have shown favorable markers of increased inhibition and decreased inflammation. Cognitive testing at 6 months showed no worsening of memory function or cognition. And, in fact, there were some mild improvements, he said.

The second patient had an 8-year history of drug-resistant epilepsy, averaging 14 focal seizures per month at baseline. Testing also confirmed seizure onset in a single focus in the right temporal lobe and the cells were again implanted without complication on target. Five months after treatment, the patient has had a 94% reduction in seizures and no serious adverse events.


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