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Elisabeth Lopez
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People with epilepsy acquired following brain trauma are the focus of a new $28 million global push for a long-awaited research breakthrough to develop treatments that for the first time could prevent or mitigate this disabling and potentially life-threatening condition.

 

The University of Melbourne, in partnership with the Royal Melbourne Hospital, is the only Australian institution to take part in the project, funded by one of the largest grants to date awarded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) for research into the elusive condition.

Some 250,000 Australians suffer from epilepsy, the causes of which range from tumours to infections, genetics, haemorrhages or stroke, in addition to brain trauma.

Principal Investigator, neurologist Terry O’Brien said epilepsy caused by traumatic brain injury, the major cause of epilepsy in people aged 15-24, is harder to predict and control than many other forms of epilepsy.

“Up to 20 per cent of people who’ve had a traumatic brain injury will develop epilepsy, yet researchers know very little about why, and have no way to prevent or mitigate it,” Professor O’Brien said.

“It’s the nasty sting in the tail for people who’ve got through a difficult rehabilitation, only to be hit by their first seizure just when they think they’re on the mend – anywhere from six months to two years after they were first injured.

“More than a third of these patients’ seizures can’t be controlled by drugs.”

Professor O’Brien – who is the James Stewart Chair of Medicine and Head of The Department of Medicine (Royal Melbourne Hospital) at The University of Melbourne – said the key to Melbourne’s appeal to be invited to be part of this international research collaboration was its location in the Parkville Precinct.

“Being in the Parkville Precinct will enable clinicians and researchers from disciplines such as neuroscience, electrophysiology, imaging, bioinformatics and molecular biology to work very closely together, at the Melbourne Brain Centre and the Royal Melbourne Trauma Centre and ICU.”

The project, one of three NIH Epilepsy Centres without Walls, will be led by researchers at five institutions — the University of Melbourne, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, and the University of Eastern Finland.