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August 2015

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Professor Frank Vajda

Work to overcome epilepsy barrier recognised

A doctor who has dedicated his life to helping women with epilepsy conceive children has received international accolades.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Professor Frank Vajda received the International League against Epilepsy and the International Bureau for Epilepsy’s Ambassador Award.

Internationally, Professor Vajda has led the charge in understanding and treating the complications of epilepsy drugs and pregnancy.

His work in the area of epilepsy and pregnancy has provided critically-important insights into the effect of drugs on unborn babies.

He was also one of the first investigators to study this question by setting up the Australian Pregnancy Registry, now based at the Royal Melbourne.

The registry includes the data of more than 2,000 women with epilepsy, who have been or are currently pregnant, and is the world’s most comprehensive database on the subject.

Since its inception in 1999, the APR has gathered data that has been used to change epilepsy-prescribing practices worldwide.

‘For many women on epilepsy medication, the desire to start a family can be fraught with fear that they could have a baby with a range of disabilities or malformations,’ Professor Vajda said.

‘We are making great progress in helping women with epilepsy have happy and healthy babies but there is still a lot more work in this area to be done.’

Royal Melbourne Hospital epilepsy specialist and Head of the Department of Medicine at The University of Melbourne Terry O’Brien congratulated Professor Vajda on his outstanding achievement.

‘Professor Frank Vajda’s work is in a league of its own,’ Professor O’Brien said.

‘A lot of critical clinical research into epilepsy looks at trying to find a cure for the disease but Professor Vajda’s work is of equal significance in more than one way.

‘His work in helping women with epilepsy overcome the barriers of their medication to have healthy children is groundbreaking in its own right. 

‘Thanks to the Australian Pregnancy Register we are now able to use 15 years of medical data to significantly reduce the incidence of birth malformations.

‘This award is further evidence of the international standing of clinical epilepsy research in Melbourne and the fantastic work of Professor Frank Vajda.’

Epilepsy is one of the most common chronic neurological disorders that affects hundreds of thousands of Australians and is more common than Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis.

It costs the community about the same as breast cancer and is responsible for as many deaths every year.

In a letter congratulating the Professor on his achievements, President of the International League Against Epilepsy Emilio Perucca said Professor Vajda’s work in the area of epilepsy and pregnancy had provided critically-important insights into the effect of epilepsy drugs on unborn babies.

‘Epilepsy prevents many of its sufferers and their families from leading normal lives, yet it remains invisible to society because those who suffer from it wish to keep their affliction hidden,’ Professor Perucca said.

‘We are making great progress in treating epilepsy and the work of Professor Vajda and his internationally-recognised epilepsy colleagues in Melbourne brings us closer to a world in which people are not limited by this disease.’

Professor Perucca said Melbourne was one of the great epilepsy centres of the world.