2021 Annual Research Awards
Investigating epilepsy from laboratory to clinic using computational and technological methods

Professor Andrew Trevelyan
& Dr Rhys Thomas
Epilepsy Research UK Doctoral Training Centre
Newcastle University

Professor Andrew Trevelyan and Dr Rhys Thomas are the lead researchers of the new Epilepsy Research UK Newcastle University Doctoral Training Centre (DTC). The DTC aims to create a school of future leaders in epilepsy research, across six innovative projects, covering three areas of epilepsy research: how seizures happen, how to predict when seizures occur, and how to prevent seizures. In this Research Blog, we hear more about the projects and what Professor Trevelyan and Dr Thomas hope to achieve through this DTC.

The North East of England has the highest rates of epilepsy in England, with one in a hundred adults taking medication for their epilepsy. What does the future hold for them? The Epilepsy Research UK #ALifeInterrupted report identifies the lack of funding for critical research and the need to increase epilepsy research in universities, to help develop the next generation of epilepsy researchers.

The award of an Epilepsy Research UK Doctoral Training Hub to Newcastle University represents a significant opportunity to focus our attentions on a single aim: a life free from epilepsy. In doing so we are building on our current research teams which cover a number of scientific areas, but particularly where technology and computing can help us better understand how seizures start and how to predict them.

We called our proposal “an investment for a new generation of epilepsy researchers” because you reap the maximum benefits when you invest in people. With a clear eye to the future, we paired established with up-and-coming researchers to supervise six Masters students and six PhD fellows. It is our hope and expectation that many of these new epilepsy students will spend four years with us, graduating from the Masters course straight in to their PhD. (If you’re interested in applying for this, please click here).

Whilst all the PhD proposals are bespoke, they share a common theme: to use new technology and innovative mechanisms for analysing data to improve treatments and our understanding of epilepsy. These projects build upon years of research experience at Newcastle University in three strategic areas: epilepsy mechanisms, seizure prediction, and intervention to prevent seizures. The PhD hub will create a critical mass of epilepsy researchers at Newcastle, to form a crucible of innovation, where the alchemy of talent and hard work will conspire to create new research leaders.

Our six projects include three focusing on how seizures work (‘mechanisms’) and three about how we can predict and prevent seizures (‘management’). The projects are diverse and range from studying human brain slices donated following epilepsy surgery, wearable brain wave devices that can record months of information, and even how our digestion and diet may impact on seizures.

In the construction of this DTC, we have created new partnerships and cemented established collaborations. We have two industrial partners who are providing financial support for the programme (Arvelle, UNEEG) and UNEEG have offered to host a PhD student for up to a year at their innovation centre in Denmark. Demonstrating their support for this scheme and for epilepsy research, Newcastle University have matched Epilepsy Research UK’s financial award. We have brought together key partners across Newcastle University, including the Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research and research leaders in the school of Computing. We hope this is just the beginning and that demonstrating Epilepsy Research UK’s support will also allow us to bring in new partners in future years.

Arthur C Clarke, the famed author of science fiction, was a passionate advocate for exploration beyond the realms of our imagination, particularly into space. His optimism and embrace of futurism are captured in the third of his ‘three laws’ – “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. We hope that by inspiring the next generation of epilepsy researchers and encouraging them to become experts in cutting-edge computational research skills, we can create advanced technologies that significantly improve life for people with epilepsy; for me, that would be indistinguishable from magic.

-Professor Andrew Trevelyan and Dr Rhys Thomas

You can read more about Professor Trevelyan and Dr Thomas’s Newcastle Univestity Doctoral Training Centre here.

Promoting, encouraging and funding research into the causes, diagnosis and clinical management of people with epilepsy and associated conditions

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Developing the next generation of epilepsy researchers and capacity building the epilepsy research environment

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Accelerating innovations for people with epilepsy by supporting research that will influence clinical practice and health policy

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