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New Drug Tested at UIC Effective in Treating Narcolepsy
JULY 1996 -- Sleep researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and other clinical sites in the United States have found that a new drug helps narcolepsy patients stay awake without being a stimulant.
The Center for Narcolepsy Research in UIC's College of Nursing, working with neurologists and the Sleep and Ventilatory Disorders Center at the UIC Medical Center, was one of 21 centers participating in a clinical trial of Modafinil, the first new drug treatment to be developed for narcolepsy in 30 years.
The 273 narcoleptic patients in the nine-week study took the drug once a day in doses of 200 or 400 milligrams or received a placebo, then were observed for two weeks. Tests showed that patients taking Modafinil stayed awake at least 50 percent longer than those receiving a placebo and had far fewer side effects than the current standard treatment of amphetamines.
"Modafinil is not a cure for narcolepsy," says Sharon Merritt, associate professor of medical-surgical nursing and director of the Center for Narcolepsy Research. "But if you can find a drug that has as few side effects as Modafinil appears to have, then that allows people with narcolepsy to live more normal lives." The most frequently reported side effects potentially attributable to the drug were dry mouth and headaches.
Pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration, Modafinil is expected to be available by prescription in 1997. Besides treating patients with narcolepsy, Merritt says, Modafinil may have potential safe uses as an anti-fatigue agent for truck drivers, airline pilots and others for whom wakefulness is a critical part of their jobs.
About one in every one thousand people has narcolepsy, slightly more than have multiple sclerosis, for example. Two primary narcoleptic symptoms are excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy, or the sudden loss of strength in voluntary muscles. Other symptoms include memory and concentration problems, sometimes resulting in poor performance at work or school. The exact cause of narcolepsy is still unknown, though researchers believe it is a biological disorder, possibly involving abnormalities of brain chemistry.