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International Epilepsy Day: CANDO Epilepsy Event

On International Epilepsy Day we look back on the CANDO Epilepsy Event held as part of the Newcastle Academic Health Partners Patient Month 2016.

'Controlling Abnormal Network Dynamics using Optogenetics’ or ‘The CANDO project’ is developing a new treatment for epilepsy. Epilepsy affects 600,000 people in the UK and uncontrolled seizures have devastating effects on patients’ lives.

Nearly a third of cases fail to respond to conventional drug treatments and may require surgical removal of the focus – the part of the brain where seizures start. However, surgery may not be suitable for all patients due to irreversible damage to necessary brain functions. As an alternative, CANDO proposes using a small implant to modulate abnormal brain activity and so prevent seizures developing. The implant provides precisely timed stimulation by continuously monitoring brain waves via implanted electrodes and modifying them via implanted light sources. This requires that some cells within the focus are genetically altered using a safe virus to make them sensitive to light. The goal of this project is to create a successful first-in-human trial in epilepsy patients by 2021.

The project team are keen to engage with patients and the public alike to introduce this new technology. For patient month, the CANDO team set up a number of interactive displays at the Laing art gallery to explain the different aspects of the project. The most popular display belonged to Dr Beth Stoll and her gene therapy team (pictured right). Visitors were able to understand a little of what they do each day in their laboratory as they donned their white coats and protective gloves to pipette some solutions of different

Consultant Neurophysiologist Roger Whittaker was on hand to explain what the activity showed and to explain more about epilepsy. People were able to see a prototype of the implant which will be used, courtesy of Rachel Savidis. Visitors were surprised by the small size of the implant and how difficult it is to handle even using tweezers! Also on hand were Drs Andrew Trevelyan and Michael Mackay to explain more about seizures and how they differ from normal brain activity. 

It was a great day with visits from many members of the CANDO patient advisory group and new people interested in epilepsy. This was a great chance to showcase the CANDO project and the team were proud to be part of the patient month initiative.    

The project is a collaboration between Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust, Imperial College London, UCL, The Wellcome Trust and the EPSRC.  You can find out more on the CANDO
and follow them @CandoNCL.


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