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Care, innovation, education and research

news item News Wednesday, May 16, 2018 Wednesday, May 16, 2018 11:51 AM - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 11:51 AM

Shriners Hospital researcher discovers link between drug used to treat seizures and birth defects

Discovery may lead to development of new epilepsy medications

Laura Borodinsky, Ph.D., a principal investigator at the Institute of Pediatric Regenerative Medicine (IPRM) at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California, has found that a drug used to treat epileptic seizures may lead to birth defects if used during pregnancy. 

Dr. Borodinsky and her colleagues investigated the effects of valproic acid in a study of clawed frogs. Valproic acid is widely used to treat patients who suffer from epileptic seizures. The scientific investigation found that when the drug was administered to developing frog embryos, the formation of the neural tube was compromised, resulting in birth defects like spina bifida in baby frogs. 

The results of Dr. Borodinsky’s study are published in the May 2018 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.The article is entitled, NMDA receptor signaling is important for neural tube formation and for preventing antiepileptic drug-induced neural tube defects.

“We know that some of the most common birth defects, including spina bifida, are caused by a defect in the neural tube. Our goal is to learn as much as we can about how the nervous system develops,” said Dr. Borodinsky, who leads research studies that focus on the interplay between genetic factors and environmental influences, and how the internal and external factors affect the development of the nervous system.

“The hope is that our research will help us find new ways to promote the healthy development of the neural tube and, in turn, reduce the incidence of spina bifida and other neural birth disorders,” added Dr. Borodinsky, who also is an associate professor in the department of physiology at the University of California, Davis.

Spina bifida is a common and disabling disorder that occurs when the embryonic neural tube does not fully close. Children born with spina bifida may have bowel and bladder issues, and many have mobility issues, including partial paralysis. The multidisciplinary team at the Northern California Shriners Hospital treats spina bifida. The team includes urologists, physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors, orthopaedic surgeons and pediatric surgeons, who specialize in gastrointestinal disorders.

David Pleasure, M.D., director of research at the Northern California Shriners Hospital, said researchers in the IPRM are investigating a number of ways to reduce the incidence of spina bifida. Studies include the use of cell grafts during in-utero surgery, how folic acid – a B vitamin – diminishes the frequency of spina bifida, and how mutations in cell proteins may cause spina bifida.

“The findings uncovered in Dr. Borodinsky’s lab bring us one step closer to preventing a disabling birth defect. They also may lead to the development of new and safer medications to treat epilepsy,” Dr. Pleasure said.

The IPRM is a joint project of Shriners Hospitals for Children and the University of California, Davis School of Medicine. Located inside the Northern California Shriners Hospital, the IPRM is home to an international team of scientists that work collaboratively to find new ways to heal children with complex medical needs.