New project to improve techniques of studying epilepsy

Researchers from Bath, Newcastle and Aston are collaborating to keep brain tissue alive for longer in the lab.

Currently it is very difficult to study epilepsy in humans because brain tissue surgically removed from patients can only be kept alive for around 10-12 hours, which limits the number of experiments that can be done.

Professor of Neuropharmacology Roland Jones from our Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology, alongside colleagues at the Universities of Newcastle and Aston, has been awarded a 12 month pilot grant to improve the techniques for studying human living brain tissue that is collected for epilepsy research.

The grant from Epilepsy Research UK (ERUK) will allow the team to investigate developing a process that will keep the tissue alive in culture conditions for at least 4-5 days to ensure they are able to get the maximum amount of information from the priceless resource.

Brain surgery often the only treatment

The 2015 round of research grants were announced at a reception at the Royal Society. Coinciding with National Epilepsy Week, Mr Leigh Slocombe, Chief Executive of ERUK, informed the invitees of ERUK’s commitment to fund a total of nine new research projects vital to furthering people’s knowledge and understanding of epilepsy; ranging from improving diagnostics to identifying possible future treatments.

Epilepsy affects between somewhere close to 1 in 100 people, with around 500,000 sufferers in the UK alone. In Bath, that means that roughly 820 people are living with the condition. Around 20-30 per cent are non-responsive to current drug treatments, leaving surgical removal of the affected brain area as the only alternative therapy.

Understanding the causes of epilepsy

Commenting on receiving the grant funding, Professor Jones said: “It is vital that we understand the changes in the brain that underlie epilepsy, which will aid us in developing new and more effective drugs.

“We are also leading the development of a National Network of groups conducting similar human tissue work elsewhere in the UK and have coordinated a series of meetings with groups from the Universities of Oxford, Southampton, Liverpool, Sheffield, Kings College, UCL and Great Ormond Street Hospital.

“By combining resources and approaches we hope to progress the field of epilepsy research in this country substantially, and the success of the ERUK pilot grant funding is an excellent starting point for this endeavour.”

Chief Executive Leigh Slocombe added: “I have seen first-hand the medical advances that have come from research that we have supported. Research holds the key to so many unanswered questions about the condition. If we can fund more research we can make more breakthroughs and transform more lives.”

For more information on each of the nine research grants, please visit http://www.epilepsyresearch.org.uk/research/research-portfolio-2/

93 per cent of the University’s Pharmacy & Pharmacology research was rated as world leading or internationally excellent in the recent independently-assessed Research Excellence Framework 2014. Overall Bath ranked in the top 3 of universities with a School of Pharmacy.

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