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Epilepsy Research UK and MRC’s NATA announce awardee of co-funded fellowship project

Epilepsy Research UK has a long history of collaborations and funding partnerships with  charities and epilepsy research stakeholders, and this year is no exception. Epilepsy Research UK has partnered with the Medical Research Council (MRC) Nucleic Acid Therapeutics Accelerator (NATA) to co-fund a fellowship investigating pioneering nucleic acid therapies for epilepsy. This #NationalEpilepsy Week we are pleased to announce that Dr José Prius Mengual from the University of Oxford has been awarded funding for this innovative project.


What are nucleic acids and why are they relevant for epilepsy?

Nucleic acids are the main information-carrying molecules of the cell and form the building blocks of genetic material such as DNA and RNA. Typically, drugs work by targeting proteins, however nucleic acid therapeutics target the genetic blueprint of a condition. These cause-focussed treatments aim to achieve a long-term therapy for lifelong conditions, such as epilepsy.

One in three people living with epilepsy continue to have uncontrolled seizures that do not respond to treatment. Tragically, there are still 21 epilepsy-related deaths every week in the UK. Using nucleic acids to treat epilepsy could represent life-saving options for people whose lives are constantly interrupted by seizures.


What will this fellowship project investigate, and what is its significance?

Sleep disturbances are two to three times more prevalent in people with epilepsy, and the treatment of sleep disorders can improve seizure control. The link between sleep and epilepsy remains unclear, but a potential mechanism is the accumulation of defective proteins due to failures in cellular transportation. This accumulation, called ER stress, increases with the amount of time spent awake. Activation of ER stress pathways relates to abnormal neuronal excitability and even cell death, suggesting a new and previously unexplored mechanism.

This collaboration with NATA aims to investigate whether modulation of ER stress pathways linked to sleep, using novel nucleic acid therapeutics (NATs) in the brain, can prevent seizures. The project will allow the creation of nucleic acid therapeutics (NATs) targeting genes of the ER stress pathways, expanding our knowledge of the relationship between epilepsy and sleep and the mechanisms underlying epilepsy, with the potential for new and much-needed treatment options. As part of this fellowship award, Dr Mengual will have access to NATA’s state-of-the-art facilities and will work with their world-leading scientists.

Find out more about Dr José Prius Mengual ‘s work in the video below:

Dr José Prius Mengual said:

“During my previous MRC early career position, I collaborated in investigating the molecular and electrical signatures of epilepsy in the brain. This experience has made me acutely aware of the pressing need for novel approaches in treatments against epilepsy. My innate curiosity and drive to improve things have motivated me to develop a project focused on genetic therapies that will ultimately result in better clinical interventions and aim to significantly improve the lives of people affected by epilepsy. I am eagerly looking forward to seeing the positive impact my efforts will have on people’s lives.”

Maxine Smeaton, Epilepsy Research UK Chief Executive said:

“This fellowship, in partnership with the MRC NATA, will enable Dr Mengual to develop a track record in innovative nucleic acid therapeutics and to do so with the support of NATA’s world-leading scientists and state-of-the-art facilities. This project has the potential to accelerate the development and delivery of life changing and much needed therapies for people with epilepsy.”

Nick Lench, NATA Executive Director said:

“NATA is committed to providing training and support to the next generation of science leaders. Our focus on inter-disciplinary and translational research will enable Dr Mengual to develop the skills and experience to succeed in this exciting co-funded fellowship with Epilepsy Research UK, which aims to develop nucleic acid therapies that could significantly improve the management and treatment of epilepsy.”

Find out more about Dr José Prius Mengual ‘s work in the video below:

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