A grant from Epilepsy Research UK will allow researchers to study a specific type of brain cells in hopes of identifying a new therapeutic target to treat absence epilepsy, a form of the disease that mainly affects children.
The £29,300, 18-month grant to a team of investigators, led by Mark Wall, PhD, at the University of Warwick, will fund research on a possible link between loss of glial cells in the brain and absence epilepsy, which is marked by episodes of brief, sudden loss of consciousness, and can be accompanied by convulsive seizures. Patients with more than 200 episodes per day are considered to be at a severe status of this disease.
Children with absence epilepsy do not always respond to anti-epileptic therapy, which greatly affects their daily life, especially in school.
“Our work will hopefully identify a new therapeutic target to treat absence epilepsy and increase understanding of the disease,” Wall said in a press release. “The findings from this project will give important new information about how absence seizures arise, and may reveal new targets for the development of more promising treatments. The methods used will also be useful for the screening process of anti-absence seizure drugs in the future.”
The research project will focus on the brain’s glial cells because their main responsibility is to support and feed neurons and ensure that neuronal communication is properly maintained. Epilepsy is caused by faulty propagation of electrical stimuli among neurons, and the research team expects to find a loss of glial cells as an underlying mechanism triggering abnormal neuronal inhibition and the occurrence of absence seizures. The team will use several different experimental techniques to uncover the specific cell population causing excessive inhibition in the thalamo-cortical circuit, a neuronal network that has been shown to be inhibited during absence seizures. Finding what exactly causes this type of seizures is of great importance for the development of specific treatments targeting absence therapy without affecting the surrounding healthy neurons.
Epilepsy Research UK also awarded six other grants aimed to support research and treatment development in epilepsy.
“Research not only improves the lives of people right now, but will also improve the lives of the many people who will develop epilepsy in the future,” Mike Rich, chief executive of Epilepsy Research UK, said. “Research is essential if we are going to find a cure, new treatments, or greater understanding of the condition. At Epilepsy Research UK, we provide the funding for the research that will help change lives. This is something we can all do together.”