Researchers from the University of Liverpool have been awarded a £390,000 grant ($487,740) from the Medical Research Council to study how genetic mutations can cause epilepsy.
This research project will be led by a team from the Institute of Translational Medicine (ITM) of the University of Liverpool, who will investigate how epilepsy-associated mutations in evolutionarily conserved neuronal genes can cause epilepsy.
If researchers are able to find a genetic cause of epilepsy, this project may lead to the discovery of new targets for antiepileptic drugs.
“Genetics has long been recognized to play an important role in many types of epilepsy. However, it is only in the last few years that substantial progress has been made in identifying the genetic mutations that cause epilepsy,” Alan Morgan, leader of the project and a professor at the university, said in a press release.
“Although this is a major recent breakthrough, understanding how these genetic variations contribute to epilepsy and translating this into new treatments will require extensive further work bridging different areas of biomedical research,” Morgan said.
Brain cells, called neurons, typically communicate with each other by sending electrical signals and chemical messages. However, in epilepsy, these neurons sometimes send abnormal bursts of electrical activity, which is what causes seizures.
The researchers aim to identify novel epilepsy-associated mutations and then engineer them into the genome of a model organism, the Caenorhabditis elegans roundworm. The team then will observe the consequences of the mutations in this model.
“Our multi-disciplinary project will address this by capitalizing on the expertise of the team of co-investigators within ITM in the areas of epilepsy (Dr. Graeme Sills, Prof Tony Marson), neurobiology (Prof Alan Morgan, Dr. Jeff Barclay, Prof Bob Burgoyne) and genetics (Prof Andrew Morris),” Morgan added.
Research published this year has suggested that variations in the amount of genes present in each cell may lead to developmental diseases like epilepsy and others. These findings also provide insight into which specific genes may lead to developmental diseases such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders.
In the U.K. epilepsy is estimated to affect more than half a million people, according to Epilepsy Action.