Newcastle is an exciting place for epilepsy research, with several world-leading laboratories, a strong collaboration between Newcastle University and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and the recent launch of the CANDO project, led by Dr Andrew Jackson and Professor Anthony O’Neill.
Worldwide, epilepsy affects 1 in 100 people, with around half a million people in the UK affected. Despite advances in treatment, around 25% of patients continue to have disabling seizures. CANDO (Controlling Abnormal Network Dynamics using Optogenetics) is a world-class, multi-site, cross-disciplinary project to achieve a first-in-human demonstration of a new approach to treating drug-resistant, focal epilepsy. The seven year, £10 million Innovative Engineering for Health Award, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) involves a team of over 30 neuroscientists, engineers and clinicians based at Newcastle University, Imperial College London, University College London and the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. The project utilises the knowledge of a large number of experts who would not normally work on epilepsy as well as the existing expertise in epilepsy research at Newcastle.
Professor Mark Cunningham’s lab takes advantage of the Institute of Neuroscience and Royal Victoria Infirmary sharing the same site and has a long history of collaboration with the Neurosurgical department. They are able to take pieces of brain, removed during surgery, straight into the laboratory, providing a unique opportunity to study the activity of live, human brain tissue. As well as feeding into the CANDO project, he has characterised a mechanism of seizure generation which occurs around brain tumours, and is developing a drug treatment to treat this form of epilepsy.
Dr Andy Trevelyan’s lab provides much of the experience in Newcastle of using optogenetics as a tool for investigating the mechanisms of epilepsy, and is helping turn this knowledge into methods for controlling seizures. In addition to recently developing a novel optogenetic tool to manipulate neurons he has an ongoing collaboration with Columbia University in New York using very small implanted electrodes to look at the activity of individual brain cells during a seizure.
The CANDO project will also use an implanted device to treat epilepsy, and we have a huge team of biomedical engineering experts led by Dr Patrick Degenaar working on developing this. Newcastle also has an eminent neuroinformatics research team, led by Professor Marcus Kaiser, which is helping to develop an algorithm for detection of abnormal brain activity, and that can then be used to control seizures. Much of the work done by the team involves the use of neuroimaging, such as MRI and EEG to work out how the brain is wired up, and particularly how this wiring is different in patients with epilepsy. This knowledge can then be applied to try and work out what regions of the brain are responsible for seizures, and how best to treat them.
While we have tried to summarise the huge amount of research into epilepsy at Newcastle University, it is impossible to mention everything and everyone. Epilepsy is a big disease needing a big group of researchers. However, it is only through collaboration that we are able to make progress. And while a lot of the work at Newcastle University is completed within laboratories, it is important not to forget the very human element in all of this. That is why the University has an active public engagement policy to ensure that at the heart of everything we do are the patients and families themselves.
For further information on the CANDO project please visit www.cando.ac.uk.