What is epilepsy research?

Research into epilepsy can be divided into three main categories:

Basic research

Basic research is laboratory research. It asks fundamental questions about the way the brain works, the way drugs work in the brain, and the way our genes influence these things. Examples of questions being investigated now are:

How does a seizure start and what makes it spread?

What makes seizures stop?

How do anti-epileptic drugs interact with brain cells to produce their effects (both in stopping seizures and in causing side effects)?

Why do some people respond to anti-epileptic drugs and not others? What’s different about them? Is it genetic?

What effects do seizures have on the brain?

Which genes are implicated in causing epilepsy? Which one causes (or more likely, which combinations cause) which syndromes? How do they do this?

Clinical research

Clinical research investigates new treatments in human patients, particularly their efficacy and safety. It asks questions about what sorts of epilepsy there are, and what they’re like. Examples of questions being investigated now are:

How many people with epilepsy are there? What sorts of epilepsy do they have? What sorts of seizures do they have? When in life did their epilepsy develop?

Can we predict whether a patient will respond well to anti-epileptic drugs? If so, what are the predicting factors?

How well do anti-epileptic drugs work? What proportion of people become seizure-free on them? What side effects do they have? Do they have any long-term effects? Do they work on many different types of seizures or only in one type?

What treatments work for the resistant types of epilepsy, such as some types of status epilepticus?

What sorts of epilepsy can we treat with surgery or radiosurgery? What are the side effects?

How effective are the newer types of treatment for epilepsy, including vagus nerve stimulation, innovative surgical techniques, or other techniques such as focal cooling?

What causes SUDEP? Can we predict who’s at risk for SUDEP? Can we prevent SUDEP?

Qualitative research

This kind of research looks at issues affecting patients, finding out how good our treatment of patients is, from their perspective. Questions asked include:

What are patients’ perceptions of their treatment? What worries do they have about their treatment?

Are patients happy with the amount of information they have about epilepsy? Do they feel confident being able to find out more?

Do the treatment and care needs of patients differ depending on their age or social, economic or cultural background?

What results to patients want from their treatment? Is complete seizure freedom the ultimate treatment goal? What level of side effects is acceptable?

These are just some of the questions researchers worldwide are looking into at the moment. Epilepsy Research UK is proud to be able to help the work towards finding some of the answers. Click here to find out what work we’re funding. Click here to find out how you can help.