This week Epilepsy Research UK is supporting #BrainAwarenessWeek – a global campaign organised by the DANA Foundation which aims to increase public awareness and support for brain research.

We know that epilepsy is characterised by seizures that are caused by excessive electrical activity in the brain. But did you know the effects and impact of epilepsy can vary depending on which part of the brain seizures occur? In aid of this years’ #BrainAwarenessWeek, we will be sharing some exciting ERUK-funded research investigating the different regions of the brain where seizures can happen, and the impact they may have on people living with epilepsy.

Pinpointing the source of seizures

The search for where seizures start in the brain is key to reaching the correct diagnosis. After diagnosis, knowing the origin of the seizure is just as important in finding the right treatment, particularly when considering surgery.

Epilepsy Research UK awarded Professor Khalid Hamandi an Endeavour Project Grant to investigate advanced brain-scanning methods to better identify areas that cause seizures. The study will develop new and less invasive methods to located epileptic brain areas, and offer epilepsy surgery to more patients and with better-predicted outcomes. Find out more about this project in Professor Hamandi’s Research Blog post here.

Temporal lobe epilepsy – seizures originating from the hippocampal formation

Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) is the most common form of epilepsy in adults. TLE is characterised by seizures that originate within a structure of the brain known as the hippocampal formation, which includes the hippocampus. This network plays a crucial role in memory, spatial awareness, and the control of attention.

TLE is extremely difficult to treat with existing antiepileptic drugs, and surgical methods are often neither appropriate nor effective. Epilepsy Research UK is funding a project led by Dr Alfredo Gonzalez to research the use of optogenetics to block seizures in temporal lobe epilepsy. Optogenetics is a cutting-edge technique, which allows researchers to control the activity of specific sets of neurons using light. You can find out more about optogenetics and how it works in Dr Gonzalez’s Research Blog here.

A therapeutic approach to treating seizures at their origin

Seizures happen when there is an uncontrolled burst of electrical activity between brain cells and the brain cannot prevent it from spreading across multiple regions. An effective therapeutic approach that has recently been developed involves reducing the bursts of electrical activity between brain cells by genetically manipulating ‘excitatory’ brain cells at the origin of the seizure.

Epilepsy Research UK is funding a project led by Dr Vincent Magloire to see whether this therapeutic approach can stop both focal (seizures affecting one hemisphere of the brain) and generalised seizures (seizures affecting both hemispheres of the brain at the same time) at their origin. You can find out more about Dr Magloire’s project here.

Focal epilepsy – seizures affecting one specific part of the brain

Focal epilepsy is characterised by seizures that affect a specific region in one side of the brain, where consciousness may be altered but is not lost. Locating this region can be difficult and surgery to remove the seizure focus may not always be an option. Research funded by Epilepsy Research UK and led by Dr Antonio Valentin has investigated how electrical brain stimulation can be used to treat focal epilepsy. Dr Valentin’s technique has huge potential to not only improve quality of life but also to help reduce epilepsy-related injuries and healthcare costs. Read more about Dr Valentin’s project here.