Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital Pioneers Trials of New Treatments to Reduce Seizures in Pediatric Patients

May 27, 2021

Pediatric epileptologist Eric B. Segal, M.D., is spearheading multiple clinical trials to uncover new treatments for pediatric seizure disorders at  Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center. 

“We are proud of Dr. Segal’s clinical research initiatives, which place Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health on the leading edge of pediatric epilepsy treatment,” said Judy Aschner, M.D., Physician-in-Chief, Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health.

The cornerstone of the epilepsy treatment program at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital is a dedicated Pediatric Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU). Staffed 24/7 by members of the pediatric epilepsy team, the unit offers 24-hour video EEG.  This spring, the EMU’s monitoring capability  was expanded to include two new rooms housed in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.  The rooms are equipped with state of the art technology.

New Epilepsy Clinical Trials in Progress

  • Fenfluramine hydrochloride, a diet drug from the 1990s, is currently being studied for use in patients with Dravet syndrome. Initial findings suggest that patients taking fenfluramine can experience a 70-percent median reduction in seizure frequency. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved low-dose fenfluramine for the treatment of Dravet syndrome in patients age 2 and older.    
  • Dr. Segal is serving as principal investigator in a clinical trial for soticlestat, which inhibits an enzyme in the brain that can stimulate chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters and increase the chances of having a seizure. 
  • Dr. Segal is also the principal investigator for a Phase 1b/2a clinical trial for treatments of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, Dravet syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis complex.

“At Hackensack Meridian Health, new research, new ideas, and new treatments are at the forefront of our mission to provide expert pediatric neurological care,” said Ihor S. Sawczuk, M.D., FACS, northern market regional president at Hackensack Meridian Health and the chief research officer of the network.

Dr. Segal is currently recruiting pediatric patients with Dravet syndrome for two studies.

  • One study will examine the efficacy of a first-generation antihistamine that had positive outcomes in animals with Dravet syndrome. 
  • The other is an observational study on the benefits of gene therapy in Dravet syndrome treatment.

“By forging ahead with clinical trials and recruiting as many patients as possible, we not only benefit today’s patients, but also tomorrow’s patients who need epilepsy treatment,” said Mark D. Sparta, FACHE, president and chief hospital executive, Hackensack University Medical Center. “Our work has a major ripple effect for current and future patients and families who are living with epilepsy.”

Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital was the largest pediatric recruiter for studies of Valtoco®, an intranasal short-term rescue treatment for seizure clusters. Valtoco® was shown to perform better than Diastat, the standard seizure rescue treatment until 2020, which is administered rectally.

Surgery as Early Treatment for Medically Refractory Epilepsy (MRE)

Despite its proven efficacy and safety, surgery continues to be dramatically underutilized for patients with medically refractory epilepsy (MRE). Patients with MRE rarely achieve seizure freedom with medical therapy alone. If performed early in life, surgery can result in up to 60 percent seizure freedom, allowing the most normal development possible for children with epilepsy.

Pediatric neurologists at Hackensack Meridian Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital advocate for early surgical evaluation of patients with MRE. Luke Tomycz, M.D., pediatric neurosurgeon at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital, recently co-authored a critical review published in Epilepsia, the official journal of the International League Against Epilepsy, which explores surgical underutilization in depth.“I’m excited to be involved in new clinical trials, and to be part of such a fantastic pediatric neurology team at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital,” said Dr. Segal. “We are all united by the same goal — to improve our patients’ quality of life using the latest, safest tools available.”

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that results in recurrent seizures, causing abnormal movements, loss of awareness, or both. There are several different kinds of epilepsy. Dr. Segal’s team at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital is participating in clinical drug trials to treat types of epilepsy including Dravet syndrome, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis complex. The pediatric neurology team at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital is also advocating for early surgical treatment of medically refractory epilepsy (MRE).

Learn more about how Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital champions for cutting-edge treatments, unique procedures, and exceptional care for pediatric patients with neurological conditions.

To learn more, visit www.hackensackmerdianhealth.org/kids.