Home-grown neuroscientist leads the way for national Epilepsy charity
Professor Mark Rees, Chair of Neurology Research at Swansea University’s Institute of Life Science (ILS), has been selected to Chair the Scientific Advisory Committee at Epilepsy Research UK (ERUK).
ERUK is the only national charity that funds independent research exclusively into the causes, treatment and prevention of epilepsy.
Originally hailing from the Gwendraeth Valley in South Wales, Professor Rees has established an expert team at the ILS that works closely with ERUK, gaining some £7million of funding from several sources to investigate epilepsy, particularly in children and young adults.
Two of the team – Dr Seo Kyung Chung and Dr Rhys Thomas – are investigating childhood absence seizures (CAE) and Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy (JME) respectively. Dr Chung is the recipient of a prestigious ERUK Fellowship and Dr Thomas is leading a two-year project as part of a UK-wide multi-centre research effort.
Childhood absence seizures, if not diagnosed effectively, can be misinterpreted as not paying attention or ‘day-dreaming’. New findings by Dr Chung will now be followed up to try to describe the biological basis for such seizures and explain how the inner mechanisms of the brain cause CAE.
Once a person develops JME, they have it for life and so long-term treatment plans must be formulated. A good understanding of JME is vital so that these can be as effective as possible.
Dr Thomas and his colleagues hope that the identification of clinical subgroups using DNA sequencing will help develop better diagnostic techniques and therapies, and allow clinicians to make more accurate prognoses for individual patients.
Professor Rees, who also leads the Wales Epilepsy Research Network, said: “I’m delighted to have been appointed as Chair of ERUK’s Scientific Advisory Committee and hope that my increased involvement with the charity will see the continuation of worthwhile projects being funded in this lesser understood condition.
“My congratulations to Dr Chung and Dr Thomas for their recent success and they represent rising stars in the Biomedical and Clinical investigation of epilepsy.
“The research being conducted here at the ILS in Swansea – together with the impact of networks such as the Wales Epilepsy Research Network – really is putting Swansea and Wales on the map for forging new discoveries into epilepsy.
“Over the past few years we have built up a strong knowledge and presence in this field, which is gaining recognition and quietly influencing national decisions and policies.”
Without ERUK funding, continued research into epilepsy would be very difficult to undertake.
This condition, which affects 1% of the population at any one time – or 3% in a lifetime, still needs research resources. Currently, 30% of all cases will remain drug-resistant and suffer recurrent uncontrolled epilepsy.
However, with research made increasingly possible, the prospect of treatments being tailored to individual sufferers through their DNA is becoming ever closer.