PICTURE: Clemens, along with Associate Professor Kori Brewer, examine the spine of a mouse in their lab at Brody School of Medicine. Clemens’ work with mouse models was crucial to help … see more
Credits: Cliff Hollis / University of East Carolina
A recent patent from an East Carolina University faculty member could change the way restless legs syndrome (RLS) is treated, leading to more effective care over a longer period for patients.
Stefan Clemens, an associate professor in the Department of Physiology at Brody School of Medicine, received U.S. Patent 10,751,327 on Aug. 25 for his new method of treatment for RLS.
Restless Legs Syndrome is a disorder of the nervous system that affects between 5% and 8% of the population in the United States. Those who suffer from RLS have an uncontrolled urge to move their legs caused by an uncomfortable feeling. Although the exact cause of RLS is still unknown, the syndrome is usually treated with dopaminergic drugs – drugs that replace or prevent dopamine loss – that have a high initial effect but lose their effectiveness over time.
“The problem is that patients on these dopaminergic drugs eventually develop a side effect called augmentation,” Clemens said. “Their symptoms worsen while taking current medications used for treatment.”
Classical RLS treatments act on a dopamine receptor known as D3 that acts to suppress the nervous system. However, Clemens ’laboratory has shown in animal models that over time this drug leads to an increase in a different, subtype of stimulus receptors, D1. This increase in D1 receptors could be the cause of the increase.
Clemens’ patent proposes a new method of treatment that targets increased levels of D1 receptors in patients with RLS who suffer from enlargement, leading to reduced activation of D1 receptors while at the same time facilitating traditional therapy from RLS.
“Our lab assumes that this new compound will retain long-term efficacy for RLS,” Clemens said. “If an increase begins, we anticipate that we can reduce D1 receptor activation in patients and balance things out, keeping treatment effective.”
Clemens has received support from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center to conduct a small pilot study with an associate from the University of Houston using this new treatment method.
This work has attracted the attention of a company interested in establishing a partnership where ECU patent rights can be used in combination with an existing drug formulation to alleviate RLS patients suffering from enlargement.
Clemens added that the idea for the patent application came from the ECU Licensing and Commercialization Office.
“They not only drew my attention to the idea of patenting our research, but also helped me in the process and resolved all the legal and technical aspects of filing a patent,” he said. “A patent would not have been issued without their help. I now know that it can be very useful to have experts from other fields from different angles who make us think of other ways to use our work.”
Marty Van Scott, director of licensing and commercialization, said finding commercialization opportunities for college research is an important bridge that brings science to the communities the university serves.
“It is my pleasure to work with our faculty to identify translational research opportunities that can have a significant impact,” Van Scott said. “Licensing and commercialization are working hard to identify qualified development partners who offer key guidance for these translational activities. Whether it is a new therapeutic or medical device, a teaching or teaching method, or a research tool, we are available to support the campus research and innovation ecosystem. “
Although Clemens ’lab continues to work on its RLS treatment, Clemens said it continues to work on other medical treatments, including care for tolerance to opioid pain.
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