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Research by vets helps children suffering with epilepsy

New hope is being given to children who suffer from a rare and severe form of epilepsy, thanks to unique research carried out by the University of Surrey’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Fitzpatrick Referrals in Surrey.

The research, published in PLOS One, has identified the progression of Lafora disease, a devastating form of epilepsy which affects up to 50 young children worldwide. Lafora disease also affects dogs and the examination of affected canines will help develop effective treatment that can be used to treat children with the illness.

Researchers discovered that the most common clinical sign of Lafora is reflex and spontaneous muscle contractions, uncontrollable jerks and generalised seizures. Other common signs include ‘focal seizures’, ‘jaw smacking,’ ‘fly catching’, ‘panic attacks’ and ‘aggression.’

Dr Clare Rusbridge, Reader in Veterinary Neurology at the University of Surrey and Chief Neurologist at
Fitzpatrick Referrals, said: “Lafora disease is a fatal disease that causes unbearable suffering for dogs and in rare cases young children.

“Due to its rarity, little is known about the onset of this illness but what we have discovered, with the help of dog owners, is the clinical sign of Lafora helping to lead to quicker diagnosis. The more we learn about Lafora, the better chance we have of treating it effectively.”

Armed with this knowledge, campaigning by the Wirehaired Dachshund Club and Dachshund Breed Council has led to an increased awareness and testing for the disease in breeding animals. In the space of just 5 years, the proportion of litters bred with a risk of Lafora-affected puppies has been reduced from 55% to under 5%.

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