University of Toronto Epilepsy Research Program

Report by Frank Wang, fourth year undergraduate student at the University of Toronto completing a Bachelor of Science with double specialty in Pharmacology and Toxicology

On Jan. 1, 2004, the University of Toronto Epilepsy Research Program (UTERP) was created to promote epilepsy research at the university and its affiliated teaching hospitals. Members of UTERP come from a variety of expertise and backgrounds, including researchers, physicians, students and interested lay persons. They all work towards a common goal – to improve communications, facilitate collaborations and boost funding in epilepsy research.

In the past few years, UTERP has organized lecture seminars on epilepsy and an annual symposium dedicated to epilepsy research. UTERP also invites two speakers to present various topics in epilepsy care or new findings in epilepsy research every week at the UTERP Fellow’s Meetings. The speakers range from young students to senior scientists at major medical research centres in Canada. The featured talks below shows the breadth and depth of topics discussed.

Co-morbidities and EpilepsyExpand Co-morbidities and Epilepsy Section

Dr. McIntyre Burnham

Although re-occurring seizures are the defining features of epilepsy from a medical perspective, many people who suffer from epilepsy also have other medical conditions, known as co-morbidities, along with the seizures. Often, these conditions are just as debilitating as the seizures, if not more. In the first half of the talk, Dr. Burnham presented some of the common co-morbidities of epilepsy, including cognitive impairments, psychiatric disorders, behavioural changes, reproductive problems and sleep disorders. In some cases, these co-morbidities may be the side effects of anticonvulsant drugs (AEDs). In the second half of the talk, Dr. Burnham discussed ways that the medical community can tackle these co-morbidities through a public-awareness campaign and a comprehensive program in epilepsy care.

Speaker’s Biography: Dr. McIntyre Burnham is a Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Toronto. He first entered the pharmacology department in 1974 after the completion of a post-doctoral fellowship at the Montreal Neurological Institute. Dr. Burnham holds the Bahen Chair of Epilepsy Research and also serves as the president of Epilepsy Ontario. His current research interests include how neurons are generated in the brain, the anticonvulsant effects of progesterone and the ketogenic diet.

Kindling and Estrous Cycle AbnormalitiesExpand Kindling and Estrous Cycle Abnormalities Section

Kathryn Hum

Women with epilepsy often suffer co-morbid reproductive dysfunction and weight gain. Both anti-epileptic drugs and seizures are believed to be responsible. Using an animal model of seizures, the presented study, completed at the University of Toronto, has shown that seizures of temporal lobe origin are sufficient to disrupt the estrous cycle of female rats and alter estrogen levels. The study also demonstrated that seizures induce significant weight gain and increases in leptin levels, a long-term satiety hormone. The results have inspired ideas for further studies that aim to uncover the physiological mechanisms responsible for these dysfunctions and to facilitate the development of novel treatment solutions for these co-morbidities of epilepsy.

Speaker’s Biography: Kathryn Hum has recently completed her Master of Science degree at the University of Toronto. She is currently serving as an Epilepsy Ontario board member and is also one of the founders of SACEC – the Society for the Advancement of Comprehensive Epilepsy Care.

Effects of Developmental Versus Acquired Pathology on Language Laterality in Children with Medically Intractable EpilepsyExpand Effects of Developmental Versus Acquired Pathology on Language Laterality in Children with Medically Intractable Epilepsy Section

Darren S. Kadis

Determining the language regions of the brain is important for pre-surgical planning in patients with epilepsy. Often, neurologists and neurosurgeons will not only determine which side of the brain (lateralization) is important for language function, but also which specific areas (localization). For most people, the language area resides on the left side of the brain at locations known as the Broca’s Area and Werniche’s Area. Those with epilepsy may show different locations of language areas due to the disruptions caused by the seizures.

In the study that was presented at this talk, Darren looked at 108 cases of children with epilepsy to determine if the type of pathology associated with the seizures, whether it was present at birth (developmental) or acquired later in life, affected the location of the language areas of the brain. His results showed that there was an equal chance of an atypical language area (on the right side or on both sides of the brain) regardless of the type of pathology (developmental versus acquired). These findings have important consequences in the development of language localization tests and in the assessments for surgery.

Speaker’s Biography: Darren Kadis is a doctoral student at the Hospital for Sick Children. He attended the University of Toronto, Erin College (currently University of Toronto Mississauga), and specialized in Psychology and minored in Religion studies. He received his Masters degree in Psychology in 2003 and has plans to become a clinical neuropsychologist. In research, he is currently interested in the use of MEG to study areas in the brain responsible for language in children with intractable epilepsy.

About UTERP Fellow's MeetingsExpand About UTERP Fellow's Meetings Section

Since its inception, the UTERP Fellow’s Meeting has hosted more than 150 presentations covering exciting topics in epilepsy care and research. The meetings become even more meaningful when the audience, often comprised of senior researchers and clinicians, engages in deep discussions that ultimately establish the UTERP Fellow’s Meeting as a haven for scientific thinking and dialogue.

Professional diversity among the UTERP members also brings about collaborations and cooperation between UTERP and various organizations such as Epilepsy Ontario, Society for the Advancement of Comprehensive Epilepsy Care (SACEC), Toronto Western Hospital and Hospital for Sick Children. Although only three years old, UTERP had done much to promote and facilitate epilepsy research in Toronto and has much more to contribute to the medical community and to epilepsy patients in the future. For further information, contact Dr. McIntyre Burnham.