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We are proud to partner with American Epilepsy Society (AES), American Brain Foundation, and the American Academy of Neurology to attract the best and the brightest in the field. Since the 1960s, the Epilepsy Foundation has supported the careers of over 3,000 researchers. Please see below for this year’s awardees! 

AES/EF Junior Investigator Award 

Leah Blank MD, MPH 
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai 

Determinants of Guideline Adherent Therapy in Newly Diagnosed Epilepsy

Leah Blank

Although national and international societies have made evidence-based recommendations supporting the use of newer anti-seizure drugs with demonstrated efficacy and decreased side effects, these same drugs are often not prescribed. Instead, for reasons that remain unexplained, older anti-seizure drugs with serious side effects are still often used as first line agents in adults with new onset epilepsy.

Dr. Leah Blank will use detailed medical record data from the Mount Sinai health system to understand the patient, practice, and provider characteristics that might influence first drug choice for adults with new onset epilepsy. For example, does the insurance type or care setting impact who gets on which medication first? Dr. Blank will then use national data to determine the effect that these choices have on patient outcomes overall, including drug discontinuation (how long they remain on that first-choice drug) and health care utilization (how likely are they to be seen in the emergency room).

This study will lay the groundwork for the development of an intervention targeted at ensuring that those with new onset adult epilepsy are getting to the right treatment faster. 

Thank you to the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota which has a rich history in supporting Epilepsy Foundation research. This year, their generous local support ensured that Dr. Blank’s award was possible.  

David Klorig PhD 
Wake Forest University Health Sciences 
Evaluating Gene Therapy Strategies to Treat Epilepsy Using a Novel Method

David Klorig PhD

When developing a gene therapy strategy, one wants to know quickly if the treatment worked. Dr. Klorig has developed a new experimental tool that allows him to measure seizure susceptibility in animal models based on brain activity measurements, to quickly assess whether previous impaired brain activity is repaired. He now wants to test whether this tool can be used as an outcome for optimizing gene therapy strategies in epilepsy.  

For this effort, he is going to test two different gene therapy strategies involving the potassium channel Kv1.1. The two strategies focus on targeting the gene therapy to different types of brain cells (neurons versus astrocytes). Using his new tool, he can then see how brain activity changes with these two different approaches, and which one will be better for repairing brain activity. This work will reveal important information about how these different brain cells impact seizure susceptibility and could also develop a new way to inform strategy for epilepsy gene therapies in the clinic.

Susan Spencer Clinical Research Training Fellowship 

Colin Ellis MD 
University of Pennsylvania 
Polygenic Risk Transmission in Familial Epilepsy

Collin Ellis MD

There has been substantial progress over the past decade in identifying monogenetic causes of epilepsy. Monogenetic means that the cause of the epilepsy is linked to one gene. However, there is a lot of evidence that many epilepsy cases could be polygenetic, meaning that there are multiple genes involved. For example, there are studies in large families where epilepsy is more common than the general population, but there does not seem to be one key gene that is explaining why that is the case. 

Recently, polygenic risk scores were developed for epilepsy that looked at multiple common variants associated with epilepsy across the board. Dr. Ellis will be assessing the polygenic risk scores for two large families where epilepsy seems to be fairly common, to test whether those that have epilepsy have higher risk scores, and whether tweaks to the mathematical modelling for calculating the score improve the algorithm for determining who in the family is likely to develop epilepsy.  

AES/EF Clinical Research Training Apprenticeship 

Susanna O’Kula MD 
University of Pennsylvania 
Healthcare Utilization & Workplace Productivity in Hispanic PWE 

Susanna O'Kula

Depression affects up to 55% of people living with epilepsy. It is associated with diminished quality of life, worsened seizure control, and an increased risk of premature mortality due to suicide.

Unfortunately, depression is often under-diagnosed and left untreated in people living with epilepsy. In under-served communities, there are increasing challenges due to disparities in access to care, language barriers, discrimination and low socioeconomic status.

Dr. O’Kula wants to better understand how depression impacts Hispanics living with epilepsy and to create culturally tailored interventions to address depressive symptoms in this community. A telephone-delivered, group mindfulness-based program (UPLIFT, Using Practice and Learning to Increase Favorable Thoughts) has shown promise in treating depression in people living with epilepsy. This study will evaluate how this program improves workplace productivity and use of healthcare services in Hispanics living with epilepsy enrolled in the program. Dr. O’Kula will also run focus groups to identify barriers and in a follow-on study will test whether addressing those barriers improved outcomes from this initial study. 

The overarching goal is to improve quality of life and health of those living with epilepsy, ensuring that appropriate outreach care strategies are used.  

Authored By: 
Epilepsy Foundation Research
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