Grant round winners 2009

It has been shown that mothers who take antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) during pregnancy have an increased risk of having a baby with a physical malformation, such as a cleft lip and palate. There is also evidence to suggest that exposure to AEDs in the womb can have a long-term impact on the intellectual and cognitive abilities of children, including language skills, memory and intelligence.

Studies to explore the long-term consequences of exposure to older AEDs (such as carbamazepine and sodium valproate) during pregnancy are currently underway. However additional projects are required to determine whether the newer AEDs (gabapentin, lamotrigine, levetiracetam, oxcarbazepine, tiagibine, topiramate, and virgabatrin) have similar effects.

Professor Gus Baker and Dr James Morrow, from the University of Liverpool and the Royal Group of Hospitals in Belfast respectively, have been awarded £98,527 over 36 months, to carry out a study of this nature entitled Cognitive consequences of in utero exposure to second generation antiepileptic drugs.

The researcher team will identify a total of 160 children (aged 6 years and over), born to mothers with epilepsy who were treated with the AEDs gabapentin, topiramate or levetiracetam during pregnancy, using the UK Epilepsy & Pregnancy Register. They will then assess the cognitive ability of these children, at home or in school, using a variety of specially designed tasks.

This project will offer new information about the long-term consequences of exposure to modern AEDs in the womb, and will be immediately applicable to patients. Prospective mothers with epilepsy will therefore have the chance to make more informed decisions about their drug treatment during pregnancy.