Studies using rodents have taught us a great deal about epilepsy over the years, as well as providing an invaluable means of testing new therapies prior to clinical trials. Traditionally, the standard ways of monitoring seizures in these animals are very invasive as it involves implanting electrodes to record the brain activity. We are working with colleagues in Marseilles to develop a non-invasive means of assessing mice, using a sensitized mouse cage with pressure sensors in the floor and infra-red video monitoring. Using these non-invasive methods, we will be able to monitor mice more efficiently, while minimising the impact on their welfare, which will speed up the process of assessing new drugs and therapies.
We are very grateful to Céline Newman’s family for generously supporting this Anglo-French scientific collaboration.
All research, almost by definition, is aimed at finding something new, that was unknown previously, and this process is often accelerated by new technology. It is therefore essential to keep up to date with the latest developments. If this is happening in the laboratory next door, then great, but that is rarely the case. More often it is happening in laboratories in other countries, and one finds out about it by reading the recently published research. The quickest and best way to progress then, is to share new techniques and innovations by collaborating. Often the aims of one research project could be (and often are) completely different to those that led to the development of a new technology. But something new and exciting could be achieved by combining the two areas of research.
I am always amazed at how generous scientists are with their inventions and their time, with only the promise of a shared publication (and perhaps an interesting trip abroad). Such collaborations have happened repeatedly in my career – I have shared techniques we have developed, and benefited from those that others have invented – and the fruits of these collaborations often greatly exceed what might have been achieved by either group individually. The global epilepsy research community, is a very supportive body, bonded by a shared desire to advance our knowledge of this condition and come up with new ways to treat it.
Our collaboration with Dr Leinekugel, who developed a pressure sensor floor for examining mouse activity, exemplifies the benefits of collaboration well. The Céline Newman Bursary allowed us to purchase this sensor system, which we have incorporated into a cage with infrared cameras and facilities for recording brain activity. We have used this system to monitor the activity of mice in a study aimed at understanding why seizures tend to occur at specific times of the day. We are now starting to monitor mice with genetic epilepsy, so that we might then assess different treatment options.
The main impact will be to facilitate the study of epileptic mice, by creating a more efficient, and less invasive, way of measuring seizure severity and the effects of any treatments. There could be substantial gains in terms of animal welfare by enabling monitoring of epileptic animals to be made, we hope, without the need for invasive EEG implants.
Science is very much an international collaborative pursuit, and the investigation of epilepsy is no different. Even though epilepsy is common in the UK, it is far more common in the developing world and especially in rural parts of Africa and Asia. An important collaboration for us continues to be with Professor Joe Raimondo, in South Africa, who is interested in epilepsy caused by a parasite found in uncooked pig meat. This parasite alone is the cause of more cases of epilepsy in South Africa than in all the UK.
Collaboration happens by publishing research findings in international journals with open access, so that people in low and middle income countries (LMICs) can still access these new findings, and by going to other countries to present our work, and to teach at international workshops and courses. Video-conferencing has become a big part of this, and there are now regular seminars delivered by leading researchers, attended by hundreds of people at the same time, across the world. Our own laboratory at Newcastle University is at the forefront of these efforts and in the last couple of months, we have published major papers which shed light both on how seizures start, and how they end.