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The Epilepsy Foundation, in partnership with the American Epilepsy Society (AES), supports young investigators. Learn more about our 2018 awardees.

Junior Investigator Research Award

Presented through a partnership between the Epilepsy Foundation and the American Epilepsy Society.

Dr. David Auerbach

David Scott Auerbach PhD
University of Rochester
Research Topic: Mechanisms for Seizures in Long QT Syndrome Type 2

The goal of this project is to understand how cardiac abnormalities may contribute to sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). Dr. Auerbach is interested in the cross-talk between the heart and the brain. Specifically, he studies genetic diseases that develop electrical disturbances in the brain (seizures) and in the heart ( also known as arrhythmias) which result in sudden death. Previously, Dr. Auerbach demonstrated that in Dravet sydrome (a severe genetic form of epilepsy), there are electrical changes in both the brain and heart. These findings suggested that cardiac dysfunction could be a risk factor and underlying cause for SUDEP. Now, he is approaching the brain-heart link in the opposite direction.

He is specifically focusing on Long QT Syndrome-2 (LQTS2), a cardiac disease associated with sudden death. Recently, he showed that LQTS2 can also be related to higher rates of seizures. Yet, the mechanisms for why LQTS2 can lead to seizures is not known. Around 60% of people with LQTS2  have a mutation that alters their potassium channels, which are important in stabilizing neuronal electrical activity. Dr. Auerbach has developed a rabbit model of LQTS2 to better study how the potassium channels are changed in the brain. Understanding the brain-heart connection can help shed new light on sudden death and lead to future prevention strategies. 

Clinical Research & Training Fellowship

Presented through a partnership between the Epilepsy Foundation and the American Epilepsy Society.

Dr. Garnett Smith

Garnett Smith MD
University of Michigan
Research Topic: Using Biomarkers to Construct Spatial Models of the Epileptic Network

The goal of this project is to combine information from electroencephalograms (EEGs) between seizures and during seizures to make a 3-D tool to help physicians localize the epileptic network. Epileptic networks are the brain regions that are involved in creating and spreading seizures. These brain regions often produce abnormal electrical activity. Computerized analysis of EEG signals has allowed researchers to detect this abnormal activity and use it to better understand where seizures might be coming from in a brain. 

The proposed study combines information about electric signals that occur between seizures (called high-frequency oscillations or HFOs) with information about activity that occurs at the time that seizures start and spread (called an epileptogenicity index). Dr. Garnett Smith will map these HFOs and epileptogenicity index onto a 3-D map of brain to show areas that are likely involved in creating seizures. Improved knowledge of where seizures come from could improve the success rate of epilepsy surgery.

Susan S. Spencer Clinical Research and Training Fellowship

Hiroki Nariai MD
University of California Los Angeles Medical Center
Research Topic: High Frequency Oscillations (HFOs): A Specific Biomarker of Pharmaco-resistant Epilepsy

The goal of this project is to test whether high-frequency oscillations could predict who would respond well to surgery as a treatment option for drug-resistant epilepsy. Traditionally, EEG analysis for clinical interpretation is analyzed at frequencies under 30Hz. With advances in technical equipment and improved analysis, researchers are starting to look at high frequency oscillations (HFOs) observed on the EEG. In contrast to traditional EEG analysis, these are frequencies detected above 80Hz. These HFOs have generated a lot of interest, as they are a relatively new method for looking at brain activity. The community is still trying to understand what this activity could mean.

Dr. Hiroki Nariai will be using his fellowship to prospectively sample and analyze HFOs in scalp EEG for individuals undergoing pre-surgical evaluation. Dr. Hariai can then use this technique to potentially better localize where a seizure starts and test whether HFO analysis can predict who would be a responder to surgery. 

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