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Strengthening the epilepsy research community    


Date Published: March 7, 2024

Author: Natalie Powell

Behind every research project are dedicated epilepsy researchers. By supporting these scientists, we are enabling high-quality research that will one day deliver results for everyone affected by epilepsy including radically changing treatment pathways and/or preventing its occurrence in the first place In this feature, we focus on how elements of the Institute’s strategy will strengthen the research community in order to achieve a life free from epilepsy.  

The only way to stop epilepsy interrupting the lives of over 600,000 people in the UK is through research. If we support and strengthen the research community and build a flourishing research ecosystem we can enable high-quality research that will change people’s lives.  

But to do that, we first need to grow the epilepsy research community to ensure there is equity. In the UK, there are just over 1.5 times as many people with dementia as epilepsy (944,000 vs 600,000), but it’s estimated there are more than 10 times as many researchers working on dementia than working on epilepsy (6,100 vs 600)!  

It’s therefore, vital that we attract new researchers to epilepsy, but also retain the brightest minds to help solve the big challenges we still face. At the Epilepsy Research Institute, this is what we call ‘capacity building’. 

In this Feature, we highlight three examples of how we’re growing and developing a research community strong enough to take on the challenges epilepsy presents.  

Training the next generation of epilepsy scientists 

PhD students are effectively ‘apprentice scientists’ – working in laboratories and research groups while also learning to become a researcher. Their work makes a huge contribution to the achievements of research teams, as well as the wider research ecosystem.  

In 2021, the Epilepsy Research Institute co-funded the creation of two Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs) with the University of Edinburgh and Newcastle University. Training six PhD students each, these two DTCs were the first of their kind to be entirely dedicated to epilepsy research.  

Professor Cathy Abbott, who jointly leads the Edinburgh DTC, says the aim of the epilepsy DTCs are to help “create an environment in which the research flourishes, and to nurture and expand talent in the field of epilepsy.”  

Through our DTCs, we’re supporting 12 scientists at the very start of their careers, who may one day discover the epilepsy treatments of the future. A call for DTC applications was included in this years’ grant round and so we aim to expand this programme soon. 

Supporting future leaders in epilepsy research 

Later in their career, once they have gained more experience and expertise, a key transition point for many researchers is the move from being part of someone else’s research team to starting their own.  

To help researchers make this transition, the Epilepsy Research Institute funds Emerging Leader Fellowship Awards 

Dr Tim Tierney, who was awarded fellowship funding in 2021 jointly by the Institute and Young Epilepsy, explains: “Securing a fellowship is an important step in any researcher’s career. A fellowship provides funding to pursue your own ideas and a platform to become an independent researcher.” 

Maintaining this momentum, in 2023, we awarded three Emerging Leaders Fellowships to Dr Amy Richardson at University College London, Dr José Prius Mengual from Oxford University, and Dr Amanda Almacellas Barbanoj from University College London (jointly funded with the UK Tuberous Sclerosis Association).  

Supporting these researchers to become leaders in their field could lead to research breakthroughs such as new epilepsy treatments to help more people live seizure-free and/or without any of the other associated negative impacts epilepsy can bring 

Strengthening and expanding the epilepsy research community  

No scientist works in isolation. Bringing people together helps to strengthen the epilepsy research network. This in turn will enable new collaborations and spark new ideas that could ultimately help deliver our vision of a world free from epilepsy..  

We do this by creating and facilitating events, workshops, and special interest groups. For example, we recently hosted a joint ‘Research Roundtable’ event with the Dementia Research Institute. The event brought together researchers from across the two fields – who otherwise may not have worked together – to share their research knowledge and learn from each other. With the many known commonalities between the conditions, events like this foster collaborations and find avenues for future research funding which could one day bring benefits to both epilepsy and dementia communities. We plan to host many more of these types of events at the Institute to further our understanding.  If you’re a researcher and interested in finding out more about hosting a future workshop at our Institute offices in London, please do let us know here.  

A life free from epilepsy depends on a strong research community 

One of the key motivations for establishing the Epilepsy Research Institute was to help the research community grow and thrive, by convening, connecting and capacity building the epilepsy research ecosystem. 

And so, when you support the Epilepsy Research Institute, you’re not just funding individual projects. As the chair of our Scientific Advisory Committee, Professor Mike Cousins says: “your support is allowing us to sculpt the future research landscape by generating additional capacity in epilepsy research.”  

So each and every donation we receive brings forward the day we achieve a life free from epilepsy. Help create the research community that will get us there – donate today 

If you’d like to find out more about our research programme, including our Shape Network PPIE group, contact our Head of Research and Involvement, Annee.

If you’re a researcher and not yet joined our online portal for  researchers working in epilepsy and associated conditions, you can sign up here