2021 Annual Research Awards
Improving outcomes for Childhood Onset Epilepsies: from mechanisms to treatment

Professor Cathy Abbott & Professor Richard Chin
Epilepsy Research UK Doctoral Training Centre
University of Edinburgh

In this Research Blog, we learn about Epilepsy Research UK & University of Edinburgh’s Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) from lead researchers  Professor Cathy Abbot and Professor Richard Chin. This DTC will provide funding for six PhD students and an additionally funded seventh studentship.  The research projects will focus on improving outcomes for childhood onset epilepsies, from mechanisms to treatment.

Although there are many excellent PhD training programmes in neuroscience across the UK, these have never previously been focused on epilepsy. We were therefore very excited when Epilepsy Research UK announced its intention to fund two dedicated Doctoral Training Centres, and we immediately started thinking about what sort of training we could offer.

Between us, we have many years of research experience in the epilepsy field. Perhaps more importantly, however, we are both passionate about patient engagement and have complementary expertise as a paediatric neurologist (Richard) and in running postgraduate training programmes (Cathy). We were determined from the outset that the training we planned to offer should put the person with epilepsy at the centre, that we would deliver world-class training and research, and inspire the next generation of epilepsy researchers.

We were thrilled when Epilepsy Research UK chose to fund our programme, which will focus on childhood onset epilepsies. These disorders not only have immediate consequences for affected children and their families in terms of seizures and (often) learning difficulties, but they can also have far-reaching effects into adulthood. Although many children will achieve good seizure control, almost a third do not respond to any of our current treatment options and will continue to have seizures throughout their lives. Our aim, therefore, is to train our cohort of students in research projects which will together produce improved diagnostic methods and a better understanding of how biological mechanisms within cells and circuits in the brain can go awry, resulting in seizures. Ultimately, this work will result in improved therapies and outcomes for people with childhood onset epilepsies and their families.

How will we set out to achieve this?

Well, we will start by selecting seven students with the potential to become outstanding epilepsy researchers of the future. They will each carry out a specific research project ranging from molecular to clinical studies, supervised by carefully selected teams from University of Edinburgh with diverse backgrounds. Importantly, they will also be given a bespoke training programme, designed to produce a cohort of students with a broad understanding of childhood onset epilepsy, the impact for patients and their families, and what we might be able to do to help. This will include learning about the different model systems we use in research, the impact of a genetic diagnosis, how drugs are discovered and tailored for use in the clinic, and how clinical trials are designed and conducted. We think it is important that all students, regardless of their specific project, acquire an understanding of this whole discovery pathway from underlying mechanisms through to the development and implementation of new treatments. This will allow them to put their own results in context, and to appreciate where their work might lead in terms of new therapies. Crucially, the students will also attend clinics and listen to talks from people with epilepsy and their families, so the patient viewpoint is kept at the centre of their research.

We are all very excited about this new programme and can’t wait to get started on recruiting the students, who will be poised to make discoveries that will improve lives for people with epilepsy. We’re so grateful to Epilepsy Research UK and to all the supporters who raise funds for this fantastic cause. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to train and inspire the next generation.

-Professor Cathy Abbott & Professor Richard Chin

You can read more about Professor Abbott and Professor Chin’s University of Edinburgh Doctoral Training Centre here.

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