Headshot of Owen Pickrell

Dr Owen Pickrell is a consultant neurologist and honorary clinical associate professor at Swansea University Medical School. He practices clinically as a neurologist in Swansea Bay University Health board with a sub-speciality interest in epilepsy.  

How did you initially become interested in your field? 

Although I was previously working in aerospace research I retrained in medicine in order to work more with people. I was fascinated with how the brain and the nervous system works and was struck by how much we don’t know about the brain. I therefore went on to specialise in neurology.  

There are many neurological disease and conditions that we don’t fully understand. I currently divide my time between clinical neurology and neurology research. 

What are you hoping to achieve with your research?  

My main research interest is in epilepsy which is one of the most common neurological diseases, affecting around 1% of the population. People with epilepsy face significant problems and my aim is to try and help them by understanding more about the causes, progression and treatment of epilepsy by using genetics and “big data”.  

We are lucky in Swansea that we have the world-leading SAIL Databank as well as the Swansea Neurology Biobank which we can use to answer some important questions on a population level, for epilepsy and other neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.  

What are you currently focusing on?   

 Our neurology research group at Swansea is examining the effect of COVID in people with epilepsy in Wales. There are concerns about the direct effects of the virus but also the indirect effects due to changes in healthcare provision and increased social isolation. It is important that we understand any effects as soon as possible. 

I am also interested in a less common but significant neurological condition called idiopathic intracranial hypertension. This causes an increase in the pressure of the fluid in the brain, with symptoms including headache, visual disturbances, and sometimes visual impairment. We have recently found that it is increasing significantly in Wales.  

The neurology research group is also developing natural language processing technology. We have developed a system called ExECT which automatically extracts epilepsy information from unstructured text like clinic letters or medical records. This will provide detailed information for research and hopefully enable us to look in more detail at the causes and treatment of epilepsy.