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UMES researchers lauded for work on new epilepsy medication

  • Thursday, May 1, 2014

    UMES researchers lauded for work on new epilepsy medication 

    COLLEGE PARK, MD - (May 1, 2014) - Two UMES researchers are among "Invention of the Year Award" winners honored this week by the University of Maryland College Park's Division of Research. 

    UMES researchers win state Inventor of the Year awardDr. Patrice Jackson-Ayotunde, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, and Dr. Tawes Harper, a pharmacy program graduate, were recognized for their pioneering work in 2013 on developing medication to treat epilepsy.

    Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder characterized by recurring seizures, which can be debilitating. Some patients experience multiple episodes daily.

    Research by Jackson-Ayotunde and Harper focused on designing and producing novel anticonvulsant analogs as potential agents for treatment of therapy-resistant, partial epilepsy. They identified at least a dozen compounds that show anti-epileptic properties in multiple animal models with limited-to-no-observed neurotoxicity.

    "This (peer) recognition means a lot," Jackson-Ayotunde said. "I'm passionate about the research I do as a medicinal chemist, and working with students."

    Her research already has qualified for a provisional patent, but she noted that safely moving a preliminary medicinal finding from the lab to the patient can take 15-to-20 years.

     "With the many hours spent in the lab - working on potential agents - it's all about the patients suffering epilepsy. The goal is to discover new effective and safe therapeutics that will give epileptic patients a better quality of life," she said.

    The College Park campus' Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) sponsors the annual Invention of the Year Awards program, now in its 27th year. In 2013, it received 154 nominations and from that group, 11 were chosen as finalists based on their impact on science, society and market potential.

    An independent panel of judges singled out epilepsy research at UMES for special recognition along with scientists whose projects included developing a better material for the 3D printing of vascular implants, a technology that makes cloud (computing) storage more secure and efficient, and a low-cost, high-energy solid state lithium-ion battery.

    Bobbi Donley, the OTC's assistant director of administration, said, "Patrice's research was just so impressive … we all agreed we had to do something to recognize her work."

    Jackson-Ayotunde has been doing epilepsy research for nearly 14 years dating back to her days as a college student. She was inspired, in part, by a nephew who had a related neurological disorder but has since grown out of it.

    Earlier this year, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy named her a "New Investigator Award" winner, which included a $10,000 grant to help underwrite her ongoing epilepsy research work.

    "With the grant funding," she said in January, "I hope to further my research in the area of drug design and discovery - and continue to provide research opportunities for undergraduate science majors and pharmacy students."

    Harper, who graduated in 2013, currently is a resident pharmacist at Lebanon (Pa.) Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He is among 10 pharmacy students and two undergraduates who have assisted Jackson-Ayotunde with her research since she joined the UMES faculty in 2010.

    A wide range of treatments for epilepsy exist, but 25-to-30 percent of the nation's two million epilepsy patients do not have complete control of their seizures, or may suffer side effects from anti-epileptic drugs.

    That leaves a significant portion of the population without adequate treatment and a great need for the development of new treatments to help those patients. That's what motivates Jackson-Ayotunde to be an educator-researcher.