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Tipping Point
Research Awards 2022

Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett
Head of Research
Epilepsy Research UK

This year marks a significant milestone for Epilepsy Research UK as we announce funding of over £1.5 million in our 2022 research awards – our highest ever single investment. In this Research Blog, Head of Research Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett takes a closer look at the essential and exciting research projects our committed supporters have made possible in 2022.

Over the course of the pandemic, you may have heard us say “Seizures haven’t stopped, and neither have we.” We really did mean that...

Since 2020 we have invested nearly £4.5million in research, including funding for eight Emerging Leader Fellowship Awards, two Doctoral Training Centres that will support 15 PhD students, three Innovations in Healthcare Urgent Research Grants, nine Endeavour Project Grants and four Explore Pilot Studies. This research has involved funding partnerships with Epilepsy Action, Autistica, Young Epilepsy, the Association of British Neurologists and the Stroke Association. Despite delays caused by lockdown, these projects are already on their way to driving real impact for people living with epilepsy.  

This remarkable research investment has only been made possible thanks to the unwavering commitment of you – our supporters. Whether you held virtual quizzes, ran marathons, jumped out of planes, or pledged to leave a gift in your Will, your support as part of this powerful community has helped to drive and enable life changing, life saving research. Thank you.  

Research Awards 2022 

The research projects funded in 2022 all have the potential to make a huge difference for people affected by epilepsy. They could provide more people with the chance of experiencing life’s big moments. Whether that’s passing a driving test, securing a dream job against the odds, or having the baby you never thought you’d be able to have. This #EpilepsyWeek, we’ve been sharing the #BigMoments in the lives of people with epilepsy made possible by research projects like this.  

We are proud to have funded four Emerging Leader Fellowship Awards this year which span the breadth of research into epilepsy, including basic science, translational research, clinical research as well as exciting Big Data research. Our first awardee is Dr Amol Bhandare at the University of Warwick, who will investigate the role of a specific neuron called microglia in refractory epilepsy and SUDEP, aiming to prevent epilepsy-related deaths. Dr Faye McLeod’s fellowship project at Newcastle University will use donated human brain tissue to investigate the mechanisms behind early-onset genetic epilepsies, which could provide insights on the mechanisms of a range of epilepsies. Dr Kathryn Bush, also at Newcastle University, will use Big Data to understand inequalities in epilepsy, such as why people with epilepsy are more likely to die earlier, which could have big implications for health policy and practice. And our final fellow, Dr Josephine Mayer at the University of Liverpool, has been jointly funded by Epilepsy Research UK, the Association of British Neurologists and the Stroke Association, to explore the link between seizures and cardiovascular health in the aging population.  

Dr Amol Bhandare and Dr Kathryn Bush’s Fellowship awards were made possible by generous legacies from Mr Bruce Tucker and Mr Evan Stone QC, respectively. These incredible gifts will not only support this important research but help develop two future leaders in epilepsy research.  

We also awarded five Endeavour Project Grants which aim to underpin future research into epilepsy and associated conditions and change clinical policy and practice. Dr Sukhvir Wright and colleagues at Aston University will investigate the mechanisms and potential treatments for a devastating and difficult to treat syndrome called febrile infection-related epilepsy symdrome (FIRES). Dr Jonathan Lippiat’s project at University of Leeds will explore the potential for computer-assisted drug discovery to find treatments for refractory epilepsies such as KCNT1. Researchers Dr Karen Smillie and Dr Daniela Ivanova and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh will characterise a new molecular pathway to control cellular signals and provide potential new treatment options. Dr Rob Wykes and Dr Beate Diehl at University College London will use lab-based research and clinical data to improve understanding of the mechanisms of SUDEP, which could provide hope for new intervention strategies. Finally, Dr Sophie Adler at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and the team at the Multi-centre Epilepsy Lesion Detection (MELD) Project will collate anonymous MRI scans from hundreds of patients around the world, and use artificial intelligence to locate epilepsy-causing abnormalities.  

This research was funded following a rigorous nine-month assessment process involving our Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) and external independent peer reviewers. Critical to this process was the involvement of people affected by epilepsy through the Epilepsy Research UK Shape Network. Read more about why and how we involved the Shape Network in this year’s grant round in our Scientific Advisory Committee Chair, Professor Mike Cousin’s, Research Blog here. We are indebted to these volunteers and excited to involve even more Shape Network members in our future grant rounds. On a personal note, it is a genuine privilege to partner with people affected by epilepsy and researchers, working together to improve research and ensure that the priorities of people most affected by this condition underpin the research we fund. 

Research really does make a difference, but there is still so much more to be done to stop epilepsy interrupting lives. We want more people to be given the chance to experience life’s big moments. And we know first-hand this is only possible through research. 

This #EpilepsyWeek, will you make a donation to support research and stop epilepsy interrupting lives?