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What can data science do for epilepsy?

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Data Science

UK Epilepsy PSP Priority 10

- What can data science do for epilepsy?

Date Published: March 1, 2023

Author: James Matejka

Data science touches our lives in many ways, some obvious and some hidden. But data also has the potential to change how we diagnose and treat epilepsy. Each month on the Research Blog, we’re exploring a different research priority from the UK Epilepsy PSP. In March, we’ll be looking at Priority 10 – how can big data analysis, through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, aid the diagnosis and management of epilepsy? 

Amazon uses it to sell you more things. Without it, your Uber driver can’t get you home. With it, Tinder finds you new dates, and Netflix finds you new shows to watch.

Data plays a huge part of modern life. And while data is revolutionising everything – from our shopping to our social lives – it is also transforming healthcare.

By analysing information from vast numbers of people, data scientists hope to spot patterns which can shed light on how epilepsy starts, the outlook for people with the condition, and which treatments could give a person a life free from seizures. Importantly, data may even be used to identify people more at risk from epilepsy-related deaths, so that they receive the urgent care they need.

This month on the Research Blog, we’ll be looking closer at how data science could change how we diagnose and treat epilepsy in the future – as well as how it’s helping improve health services today.

Ian was a professional sports coach and used to describe himself as a fitness fanatic. But out of the blue he started having seizures, and at the age of 48 was diagnosed with epilepsy. “My work and my hobbies evaporated overnight, and my life disintegrated in front of my eyes,” Ian says. “In the following 18 months I developed a fear of all physical exertion: walking, to cycling, and even leaving the house.”

As an outlet for his passion for sport, Ian studied for a Masters specialising in exercise in epilepsy. Combining this with his background in computer science, he joined our Shape Network and took part in the UK Epilepsy Priority Setting Partnership. Next week on the Research Blog, Ian will share more about his experience of epilepsy and why he’s excited about the potential of data science.

Also sharing his thoughts on data science will be Dr Owen Pickrell, a consultant neurologist and honorary clinical associate based at Swansea University Medical School. Owen’s research focuses on understanding more about the causes, progression, and treatment of epilepsy, using data from a wide range of sources. This includes the SAIL Databank, which connects a wide range of datasets on health and education, and the Swansea Neurology Biobank, which collects DNA, tissue, and blood samples from people with epilepsy. Later this month, Owen will explain how data like this is being used in epilepsy research, and why.

Dr Yujiang Wang, based at Newcastle University, is interested in how the severity of a person’s seizures can vary throughout the day, month, or year. By analysing data gathered from people across the world, Yujiang is hoping to better understand the ‘seasonality’ of seizures, and so identify which treatments are needed and when. “Huge companies like Amazon use seasonality and ‘big data’ to influence our shopping habits,” Yujiang says, “I believe we can do similar to influence seizures and make them less severe.” She explains more about her work on the Research Blog later this month.

Data is also helping change healthcare right now. Dr Colin Dunkley is the clinical lead for Epilepsy12 – a national project collecting data on epilepsy services for children and young people. Rosemarie Pardington is the Director of Integrated Care and Deputy Chief Executive of the charity Young Epilepsy. Through the organisation, young people are helping decide what Epilepsy12 should focus on, and how changes to health services could be implemented. In their joint article for the Research Blog later this month, Rosemarie and Colin will share more about how Epilepsy12 is helping to improve the quality of care for children and young people.

During the UK Epilepsy Priority Setting Partnership, we asked Ian and thousands of other people affected by epilepsy to help decide what epilepsy research should be focussing on. Data science featured in one of the top ten questions, reflecting the growing interest in it among people with epilepsy, clinicians, and scientists.

Every day, more and more data is generated, collected and made available for research, and computing power increases exponentially. So it’s likely that data science will make a huge contribution towards helping everyone live a life without seizures.  As Dr Yujiang Wang puts it: “This is a really exciting time for research into epilepsy.”

Keep an eye on the Research Blog this month to read more about Ian, Owen, Yujiang, Rosemarie and Colin, and what excites them most about the potential data science holds for people with epilepsy.