OBI-funded research projects progressing well

November 15, 2012

Progress is being made in several epilepsy research projects launched earlier this year to discover new treatments and therapies for people affected by the neurological disorder.

Scientists involved in these projects, which include research into new medications, breakthrough diets and brain stimulation, among others, gathered in Hamilton this past weekend to share updates on their research since funding was granted by the Ontario Brain Institute (OBI) earlier this year.

From left to right, Dr. Jorge Borneo and Dr. Mac Burnham, co-directors of the OBI Epilepsy Research Project


Research into more than 20 areas related to seizure disorders began in the spring. A reapplication for funding is expected to be made by the researchers in early 2013.

The Hamilton conference was aimed at bringing the researchers together to find out how much progress they had made and discussing what information to put in their reapplication, says director of the University of Toronto Epilepsy Research Program and co-director of the OBI-Epilepsy Research Project, Dr. McIntyre Burnham.

It was also an opportunity to engage with representatives from the epilepsy nonprofit advisory committee and ensure that the voice of people with epilepsy was heard throughout the discussion.  In order to improve people’s overall quality of life, co-operation and collaboration between research, clinical care and epilepsy support agencies must become the norm.    

Burnham, who is involved with projects studying the role of diet in seizure control, notes some of the highlights of the research to date:

— Animal studies are showing omega-3 fish oils are elevating seizure threshold. Since omega-3 fish oils are a food additive, as opposed to a medication, researchers don’t have to go through the same development process they do for pharmaceuticals, which can take up to 10 years. Development of food additives can start immediately. Burnham says researchers are looking to add omega-3 fish oil to people’s normal diets, with the anticipation that seizure numbers will be reduced after three months.

— Dr. Gabriel Ronen of McMaster University is conducting a study on the benefits of exercise for children living with epilepsy. The study is monitoring a group of children with epilepsy who are involved in a walking program and comparing their seizure numbers to children with epilepsy who are not participating in regular exercise. “Their hypothesis is that the kids who get exercise will have fewer seizures,” says Burnham.

— Acetone analogues are being tested in animals and preliminary results are indicating some of the acetone analogues are anticonvulsant. Acetone in the bloodstream has been found to be elevated in people who use the ketogenic diet, which favours foods low in carbohydrates.

— Dr. Elizabeth Kerr, at the Hospital for Sick Children, is researching ways to improve working memory in children with intractable epilepsy using a commercially available computer-based training program.

Burnham says he and the other researchers attending the conference are pleased with the progress made.

“At the end of our second quarter everybody was on track toward meeting their milestones, and we’re pretty happy about that,” he says.

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Writer: Deron Hamel

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