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International #EpilepsyDay: Why is international collaboration so important for research?

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Professor Andy Trevelyan

Member of the Institute’s Scientific Advisory Committee

- Newcastle University

Date Published: February 12, 2024

Author: Natalie Powell

To celebrate International #EpilepsyDay, we caught up with Professor Andy Trevelyan to discuss the importance of collaborations across borders. Andy Trevelyan is Professor of Network Neuroscience at Newcastle University, a member of the Institute’s Scientific Advisory Committee and has collaborated with researchers from across the globe, including in California, New York, South Africa and Europe. In this Feature, we put some questions to Professor Trevelyan who shared his views on the importance of researchers combining knowledge and how research can benefit from international collaborations.

Why is international collaboration so important?

All research, almost by definition, is aimed at finding something new that was previously unknown, or not confirmed, 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 and more often it is happening in laboratories in other countries. The quickest and best way to progress then is to share new techniques and innovations by collaborating. Often the primary 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 is achieved by combining the two areas of research.

How can the epilepsy research community benefit from collaboration?

Science is very much an international collaborative pursuit, and investigations and research into epilepsy are no exception. 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 understand, prevent and treat it.

Even though the prevalence of epilepsy is common in the UK, it is far more common in low- and middle-income countries and especially in rural parts of Africa and Asia.[1] So, it is essential we all are working together. For example, we were able to work with Professor Joe Raimondo, in South Africa, who is interested in epilepsy believed to be 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. [2]

In what ways do researchers collaborate with international colleagues?

Collaboration happens by publishing research findings in international journals with open access, so that people in low- and middle-income countries can readily access these new findings. It also happens by researchers travelling to other countries to present our work, and through teaching at international workshops and courses. Video-conferencing has also become a big part of this, and there are now regular seminars delivered by leading researchers, attended by hundreds of scientists 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.

How has your research benefited from international collaborations?

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.

An example of a technique we have been able to establish in Newcastle, with support from the Epilepsy Research Institute through funds donated by the family of Céline Newman, was developed by Dr Xavier Leinekugel at Aix-Marseille University in France. Dr Leinekugel and his colleagues in Marseille developed a pressure sensor floor for examining mouse activity and the Céline Newman Bursary allowed us to purchase this sensor system. We have used this non-invasive method alongside infrared cameras to monitor mice with genetic epilepsy, so that we might then assess different treatment options. This project exemplifies the benefits of collaboration well, as thanks to the technology developed in Marseille, we have been able to efficiently monitor mice while minimising the impact on the mice’s welfare, which will speed up the process of assessing new drugs and therapies.

Additionally, we used this recordings system in a different collaborative project with a team from Pisa led by Professor Gimmi Ratto, to monitor the activity of mice in a study aimed at understanding why seizures tend to occur at specific times of the day.

To conclude we would like to thank Professor Andy Trevelyan for taking the time to highlight why international collaboration continues to be so important and should be celebrated this International Epilepsy Day.

The international epilepsy research landscape is a key focus of the Epilepsy Research Institute’s strategy. Underpinning our strategy are six themed research programmes, each with a taskforce led by leading UK scientists and clinicians. As part of their role, each research programme will scope the international landscape and identify opportunities to develop international partnerships and collaborations within their own area of interest. It is therefore no coincidence that, The Hub – the Institute’s online portal for researchers working in epilepsy and associated conditions – is open to international researchers, to further foster our ambitious and inclusive culture of international collaboration.

[1] World Health Organization (2024): https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/epilepsy

[1] Raimondo, JV. et al. 2022; “What causes seizures in neurocysticercosis?” Epilepsy Currents Dec 21;23(2):105-112: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37122403/