UMES researcher for epilepsy drug

UMES Professor and alum win U.S. patent for epilepsy drug

A University of Maryland Eastern Shore pharmacy professor and an alum recently earned a U.S. Patent for the discovery of a chemical formula for a new medicine to treat epilepsy.

Dr. Patrice Jackson-Ayotunde, an associate professor in the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, and Dr. Tawes Harper, a 2013 UMES pharmacy program graduate, began the medical research project that led to the patent seven years ago. At the time Harper was Jackson-Ayotunde’s mentee who assisted her with the research.

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

Jackson-Ayotunde is the second UMES faculty member in the past 20 months to be a primary recipient of a U.S. Patent assigned exclusively to the university.

Engineering professor Yuanwei Jin earned one in mid-2016 for his “smart structure” sensing device capable of detecting metal fatigue.

“I was overjoyed,” Jackson-Ayotunde said, adding “I could feel a large weight had been lifted.” “It was gratifying to know that a lot of hard work was being recognized.”

An estimated one in 26 people will develop epilepsy in their lifetime, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. Worldwide, an estimated 65 million people have been diagnosed with the condition.

Jackson-Ayotunde’s discovery is for a prescription drug that their research shows can reduce or eliminate the onset of seizures in people who have not been helped by other medications.

The possibility of a new medicine would only become an option for epilepsy patients if pharmaceutical companies see promise in its future and opt to invest funding in years of clinical research. Jackson-Ayotunde and UMES stand to benefit financially should it someday land on pharmacy shelves.

“It’s an honor to be a small part of a bigger picture scenario,” Harper said. “I haven’t gotten to the place where I think about my role. I’m very excited, though, for Patrice because she has devoted an unbelievable amount of time to this effort, and I’m glad it’s paid off for her.”

Since joining UMES’ faculty in 2010, Jackson-Ayotunde’s research has focused on designing and producing anticonvulsant analogs as agents for the treatment of therapy-resistant epilepsy. She and Harper initially identified a dozen compounds that showed anti-epileptic properties in multiple animal models with limited-to-no-observed neurotoxicity. Jackson- Ayotunde has found nine more compounds with similar characteristics since initially applying for a patent.

“I am extremely proud of Dr. Jackson-Ayotunde,” pharmacy dean Rondall E. Allen said. “She has done a great job in identifying new compounds to treat seizures. Her research efforts have come to fruition.”

The patent award marks the culmination – at least for the moment – of 18 years of trial-and-error work dating back to Jackson-Ayotunde’s days as a doctoral candidate in medicinal chemistry at Howard University, where she studied under the tutelage of Dr. Kenneth Scott.

“It’s been part of my life for as long as I can remember,” she said. “It’s the journey I’m on. I’m just a scientist in the field looking to find a cure for epilepsy.”

Jackson-Ayotunde’s grad school mentor at Howard also did research on epilepsy and she has continued to build on the foundation he laid. She also was inspired by a nephew who had a related neurological disorder but has since grown out of it.

The UMES Communications Department contributed to this report.


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