Grant round winners 2010

Understanding exactly how seizures begin is important for two reasons: firstly, so that a warning system can be developed to alert people with active epilepsy (in good time) when a seizure is about to happen; and secondly, to design a treatment method that targets the very first stages of a seizure, ideally stopping it before it progresses very far.

In 2008, Dr Premysl Jiruska, from the University of Birmingham, was awarded of £191,468 over 36 months for a fellowship entitled High-frequency activity and transition to seizure in experimental temporal lobe epilepsy. Researchers in Birmingham are very interested in a particular pattern of electrical activity that occurs right at the point when normal brain activity becomes seizure activity; and this consists of high frequency spikes of electrical current (approximately 200 spikes per second). Each individual spike is caused by a tiny group of neurons firing together, and collections of these firing groups, called neuronal clusters, generate the overall pattern. This is partly how a seizure begins, and the pattern also appears to be involved in the development of epilepsy itself.

 

Having examined these events in brain slices, Dr Jiruska planned to study them in live animals models, using a series of three tetrodes. A tetrode is made up of four electrodes that can be inserted into various regions of the brain and used to record and amplify electrical signals. The signals can then be analysed.

 

Part-way into his fellowship, Dr Jiruska decided that it would be beneficial to use more electrodes in each of his subjects than he originally anticipated. This would allow him to make multiple recordings in parallel and gain a more detailed insight into the activity of individual neurons, as well as groups of neurons. The Epilepsy Research UK Scientific Advisory Committee felt that this was entirely justified and have now awarded Dr Jiruska £20,000 to purchase a piece of equipment comprising 16 tetrodes, as opposed to the original three. We look forward to seeing the results of this fellowship over the coming months.