USC Receives $21.7 Million NIH Grant to Study How Epilepsy Develops

USC Receives $21.7 Million NIH Grant to Study How Epilepsy Develops

The University of Southern California (USC) Laboratory of Neuroimaging of the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute announced it has received a $21.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the ways epilepsy develops.

Through the Epilepsy Bioinformatics Study of Antiepileptogenic Therapy, the research team expects to identify biomarkers linked to the development of the disease and perhaps to discover new therapies that might lead to the prevention of epilepsy after a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 5.1 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with epilepsy or a seizure disorder, a disease that causes seizures in the brain due to a disruption of electrical communication between neurons.

About 5% of all epilepsy cases are caused by TBIs, such as blows to the temporal lobe (shown in red).
Photo courtesy of Arthur W. Toga, USC Laboratory of Neuro Imaging

Most epilepsy is acquired, either from TBI, a stroke, a brain tumor or a central nervous system (CNS) infection, and understanding the changes that these damages make in the patients’ brains is critical to prevent the disorder and to reverse its effects.

The NIH funds will support an international team working to find new treatments and a cure for epilepsy. Arthur Toga, PhD, is one of the study’s principal investigators. He is the director of the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Institute and a provost professor of ophthalmology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

In an USC interview, where he answered some questions about why is it so important to find a cure for epilepsy, Toga said the global burden of epilepsy is significant because epilepsy seizures are unpredictable and can vary greatly in severity.

Toga’s team will reproduce TBIs in animal models to gather data about how the disorder develops and hopefully find a cure for post-traumatic epilepsy, which could lead to a cure for all forms of epilepsy.

The study will call on interdisciplinary team members to jointly tackle the disorder, as human brain diseases can’t be cured with a single strategy. According to Toga, large-scale collaborative efforts are the only way scientists can unlock the secrets of brain function, to eventually find cures for brain diseases.

The NIH grant will bring the epilepsy community and TBI centers closer together and will channel resources to educate patients and their families about the importance of research on epilepsy. Scientists, on the other hand, will have the opportunity to learn about epilepsy patients’ and their families’ most pressing needs and concerns. One of the research project’s goals is to encourage individuals to enroll in clinical trials to find treatments for epilepsy.

“We … are excited to be both at the forefront of this new era of possibility and a hub for such an important collective endeavor,” said Toga.

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