Cutting-edge techniques to explore brain cell activity in epilepsy

Grant winner 2014

“Drug-resistant epilepsy remains a major challenge and we believe that non-pharmacological approaches may be necessary to treat this population of patients . The brain has many different types of neurons. By using cutting edge imaging technologies we hope to identify the sub-types of neurons responsible for the growth of seizures and to develop gene therapy treatments that target these particular brain cells. We hope this research will reach the epilepsy clinics in 5-10 years.” Dr Rob Wykes (pictured)

Grant type: Fellowship

Fellow: Dr Rob Wykes

Institution: University College London

Amount: £211,516

Duration: 36 months

Scientific title: In vivo optical imaging of seizures in a pre-clinical model of chronic neocortical epilepsy

Why is this research needed?
Focal neocortical epilepsy (in which seizures arise in a specific part of the neocortex – the brain’s folded surface) is often resistant to anti-epileptic drugs, and there is an urgent need for new treatment strategies. Dr Wykes has recently developed an animal model of chronic focal neocortical epilepsy, which has become a powerful tool for investigating seizure mechanisms and evaluating novel treatment options. Previous research into focal neocortical epilepsy has largely focused on acute induced seizures; however it is clear that in chronic epilepsy there are both pro-epileptic and anti-epileptic changes to neuronal networks. Studying a chronic model of epilepsy will, therefore, undoubtedly increase our understanding of this condition.

Recent technical advances in microscopy mean that it is now possible to capture, in real time and exquisite detail, the activity of large populations of neurons; whilst animals are awake. However, this technology has not yet been used in the field of epilepsy research.

How will the research be carried out?
During his fellowship, Dr Wykes will apply these cutting-edge techniques to his model of chronic neocortical epilepsy. His main focus will be on how brain cells behave just before a seizure, and what happens to their activity when a seizure is taking place.

What difference will it make?
The findings from this study will potentially lead to the identification and development of new therapies that prevent seizures from starting or spreading.

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