“Public understanding of epilepsy is poor, clouded by misconceptions and unfounded fears,” explains Professor Tony Marson, a consultant neurologist at the Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool, and director of the UK Epilepsy Research Network. “Although the individual and social burden of the condition is massive, research funding remains low. Raising awareness of medical and other advances may help improve public knowledge of epilepsy and increase support for further studies.”

 

Genetics research

 

Professor Marson says that a major focus of current research efforts is on genetics and the underlying causes of epilepsy and seizures. The UK plays an important role in this, as a partner in several international consortia. These include EpiPGX — an EU-funded consortium lead from University College London, which aims to identify genes that will help tailor treatments to patient characteristics — and Epi4K, funded by the US National Institutes of Health, whose goal is to identify causative genes in common epilepsy.

 

Progress is being made

 

“The prospect of finding genes that cause epilepsy and predict treatment response is very exciting,” says Professor Marson. “It will hopefully improve our understanding of the basic biology of epilepsy, and lead to new treatments as well as a smarter use of those available.”
 

“Public understanding of epilepsy is poor, clouded by misconceptions and unfounded fears”

There have already been breakthroughs. Epi4K researchers have identified genes linked to catastrophic epilepsy in children. And a multinational group led by the University of Liverpool and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has discovered a genetic marker for a potentially life-threatening, although rare, reaction to certain medication.

Further research, funded by the Department of Health, is being undertaken to determine the most clinically — and cost-effective epilepsy treatments among those available. In addition, the National Audit of Seizure management in Hospitals is working to raise the profile of the condition, and to identify changes in service provision that could improve the co-ordination of epilepsy care in the UK.  

 

All-around impact

 

According to Professor Marson, current and future research efforts will gradually lead to better co-ordinated, more easily accessible epilepsy care. “We expect to be able to ensure that patients receive the most effective treatments first time, and that the NHS gets value for money,” he says. “And, in the longer term, genetics research may lead to improved epilepsy diagnosis and management.”