More than 600,000 people in the UK have a diagnosis of epilepsy, and approximately 30% of these will not respond to medication. Even if seizures are controlled, people often experience other problems related to the condition such as memory loss, and anti-epileptic drugs often have adverse side effects.
Our research is concentrated on key areas that will benefit people with epilepsy, for example: what causes epilepsy, why in some cases it is drug-resistant, improving diagnosis and treatment, minimising treatment side effects and improving quality of life.
Below are some of our key research successes to date:
- Neuroimaging research funded by ERUK has been crucial to understanding the brain areas involved in language, learning and memory in children being considered for epilepsy surgery, and to making that surgery safer.
- Far more is known of the potential dangers to children born to women taking anti-epileptic due to research funded by ERUK.
- Clinical trials of existing drugs for the treatment of memory dysfunction in people with temporal lobe epilepsy are underway thanks to support for the underpinning research from ERUK.
- ERUK-funded research has led to improved methods of focal epilepsy surgery, which are being used clinically in both the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and Kings College London Hospital, and may lead to altered practice worldwide.
- Immunotherapy has been discovered – thanks to ERUK research – to be an effective treatment for faciobrachial dystonic seizures, a seizure disorder affecting the arms and face.
A GOOD INVESTMENT
Often the research we fund is the first step in a long journey to developing new treatments. One way in which we gauge the success of these early stage projects is to assess the level of funding they subsequently secure from other organisations to progress the work.
Since 2000 we have spent just over £6 million on research projects across the UK, and this has led to more than £20 million in follow-on funding from other sources. This means that for every pound ERUK allocates to epilepsy research, a further £3.40 is invested in the field (last updated June 2016).
This huge return on our investment demonstrates our ability to identify innovative research at an early stage that will ultimately benefit everyone with epilepsy.
“The grant from Epilepsy Research UK has had an enormous impact on my research. It enabled us not only to carry out experiments that have given us fundamental insights into the regulation of brain excitability but also to secure funding from the EU, MRC and Wellcome Trust to expand our findings and hopefully to develop novel strategies for the treatment of epilepsy.” Professor Matthew Walker, Institute of Neurology, London (pictured left)
Additionally, as a member of the AMRC, our research is regarded to be of the gold standard qualifying for support from the government’s Charity Research Support Fund. This enables universities to receive up to a 28% uplift on our grants to cover their overheads, meaning all our funds go directly to research.
Research funded by ERUK (amongst others) led the Government to issue new guidelines on the prescription of anti-epileptic drugs to women of childbearing age in order to minimise the risk of birth defects. The warning was published in the drug safety bulletin of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM). The bulletin, “Current Problems in Pharmacovigilance”, is sent to all doctors, dentists, pharmacists and coroners in the United Kingdom alerting them to problems with medicines, and provides advice on the ways in which medicines may be used more safely.
ERUK also holds biennial scientific workshops were we bring together world experts on a particular aspect of epilepsy research. Several of these have been instrumental in shaping policy:
- Workshop on Epilepsy and Pregnancy – proceedings were cited in the NICE guidelines on ‘The epilepsies: The diagnosis and
management of the epilepsies in adults and children in primary and secondary care’
- Workshop on Video Games and Seizures – Led to a grant from Nintendo to the Epilepsy Society of Japan to identify the precipitants in video games seizures. Guidelines on how to avoid triggering seizures are now recognised industry wide.
- Workshop on the design of clinical trials of anti-epileptic drugs – influenced the guidelines on anti-epileptic drugs issued by the Committee for Proprietary Medicinal Products of the European Medicines Evaluation Agency.
SHAPING THE FUTURE
In addition to funding projects at the cutting edge of science, we also have a long-term goal, to build the research world of tomorrow. To this end we operate a fellowship programme to bring exceptional young scientists into the field of epilepsy research. Many of our Fellows have gone on to make a significant contribution to epilepsy research.
One of our earliest Fellows was William (Liam) Gray (pictured left), who was awarded the fellowship in 1996 whilst he was a senior registrar at the Wessex Neurological Centre in Southampton. Eighteen years later, Liam is Professor of Functional Neurosurgery at Cardiff University; still very actively involved in research (his work on clinical trials for memory dysfunction in temporal lobe epilepsy is mentioned above) and specialising in epilepsy neurosurgery. When asked about the significance of his fellowship to his career, he commented:
“My fellowship allowed me to pursue an entirely new area of epilepsy biology at a critically formative time in my career. It has shaped my scientific development more than any other award and set my research direction along a path which continues to this day. Without it, I simply would not have been drawn to epilepsy research.”
You can read our 2017 Research Report here