It was the perfect combination: a young physician interested in the brain and growing federal interest in funding epilepsy research. In the 1970s brain research in the United States—and in the laboratory of Ilo Leppik, M.D.—began to focus on the disorder.
For the past 30 years, Leppik, a neurologist, clinical professor, and head of the College of Pharmacy’s Epilepsy Research and Education Program at the University of Minnesota, has been working to develop new drugs to treat epilepsy. He’s had a hand in the development of all eight of the experimental drugs that have been approved and marketed in the past decade.
“Epilepsy is not like pneumococcal pneumonia, where you have one bacterium [that is the cause],” he says. “Epilepsy can be caused by any number of things. For some forms, only a few specialized drugs work; other drugs may make it worse.” Currently, he says, a dozen different medications are prescribed in various combinations tailored to the needs of individual patients.
Leppik, who received the 2007 William G. Lennox Award—the highest honor bestowed by the American Epilepsy Society for lifetime achievement—has had a role in evaluating the safety of deep-brain stimulation, investigating the use of electrical devices to sense the onset of seizures, and developing new methods of delivering epilepsy drugs. He’s currently focusing on the epidemiology of epilepsy in nursing home residents and, with Medtronic, Inc., on the use of electrical stimulation of the brain to stop seizures.
He’s also working with Jim Cloyd, Pharm.D., and veterinary medicine researcher Ned Patterson, D.V.M., to test new approaches to treating canine epilepsy that could translate into new therapies for human patients.
“We’re hoping,” he says, “that by developing new drugs in dogs first, we can speed the process in humans.”