Grant round winners 2008

Antibodies are molecules made by the immune system whose purpose is to protect the body from infections. Occasionally things go wrong and the antibodies attack the body’s own tissue. Recognising and treating these disorders early is important as this minimises the damage caused by a prolonged attack.

Dr Bethan Lang at Department of Clinical Neurology, University of Oxford tested blood samples from patients with epilepsy and in some of them found antibodies to a number of brain proteins. The proteins being targeted include an ion channel and an enzyme involved with the production of GABA, the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. These are important components of the way the brain communicates via electrical signals.

Dr Lang, in collaboration with Dr Yvonne Hart in Oxford and Dr Steven Howell in Sheffield, has been awarded £55,258 over 12 months to screen blood samples from a larger number of patients to find out what proportion have these antibodies. She will also screen for antibodies to other neurotransmitter receptors which have previously been implicated in epilepsy. The intention is to find out what sorts of epilepsy are associated with the presence of antibodies, and how these types of epilepsy respond to treatment. As part of her project Detection of autoantibodies in patients with epilepsy, Dr Lang will also devise ways to detect as yet unidentified antibodies that may also be present.

If some types of epilepsy are indeed caused by the presence of antibodies, then new treatments for these types of epilepsy may be possible. These would target the malfunction in the immune system at the root of the epilepsy rather than simply suppressing seizures.

This is one of nine grants made by Epilepsy Research UK in 2008. Read about the other grants from 2008 here