March 26, 2021
Research collaborations lead to translational epilepsy solutions
The world of science often appears to operate entirely on critical inspection and intelligent deduction. However, for many, serendipity plays an equally starring role. It is, after all, how many researchers find their specialty, including Dr. Paolo Federico, MD, PhD, who is among the world’s top epilepsy research scientists. Federico began his science career taking a marine biology course at Bamfield Marine Station.
“It started off as a research project on seals in my undergrad, which led me to study body temperature regulation, which led me to the brain, which led me to seizures,” he summarizes. “And all that was before I even went to med school!”
More than 20 years later, Federico is part of a team of globally recognized colleagues spanning the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI), Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI), and the Department of Clinical Neurosciences (DCNS) in the Cumming School of Medicine.
One area of Federico’s research focuses on understanding why people experience cognitive challenges following an epileptic seizure. He and his team recently started a clinical trial to assess whether either of two common over-the-counter drugs could be used to improve blood flow to the brain after a seizure occurs.
It comes on the heels of work done by HBI colleague Dr. Cam Teskey, PhD, who discovered that blood flow in the affected part of the brain during a seizure is severely reduced in the hour after a seizure. This discovery explains why many people may experience confusion and brain fog, not only in the hour after a seizure, but at times outside of that window as well. Teskey also showed that two common over-the-counter drugs could prevent this blood flow reduction and their neurocognitive consequences in mice. This research led to further testing with epilepsy patients.
“This is a really good example of translational research,” says Federico, who received $200,000 in translational funding from HBI to conduct the trial. “If we can show that these medications can help minimize post-seizure blood flow reductions, it could lead to a higher quality of life.”
Federico points out the clinical trial would never have come to fruition were it not for the discovery surrounding post-seizure blood flow in Teskey’s lab.
Many HBI and ACHRI researchers are also part of the Calgary Comprehensive Epilepsy Program, which comprises 12 epilepsy specialists, three neurosurgeons, 60 nurses and Allied Health professionals and 27 researchers, all of whom focus on epilepsy. The program is highly collaborative and creates a solid continuum of care for people living with epilepsy.
“Even if we can’t find a way to help, we always keep patients on to optimize their quality of life while awaiting new treatments that may come down the line,” Federico says.
Federico attributes much of the program’s success to its recognition that the impact epilepsy has on a patient’s life goes much deeper than the fear of seizures.
“Patients with epilepsy are two to five times more likely to have significant mental health challenges,” he says. “These can include depression, anxiety, poor memory and feelings of isolation. Taking care of their mental health concerns is just as important as taking care of their seizures.”
Teskey and Federico’s work are examples of many of the research projects underway thanks to collaborations between HBI, ACHRI, DCNS and other partners. For more examples of the work being done on epilepsy, please visit the HBI Epilepsy page here.
March is Epilepsy Awareness Month. If you would like to learn more about epilepsy, treatments and existing research, visit the HBI epilepsy page
Paolo Federico is one of two HBI researchers in leadership positions at the International League Against Epilepsy. Dr. Samuel Wiebe is current president. Federico is also president of the Canadian League Against Epilepsy.
Brain and Mental Health research strategy
Led by the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, Brain and Mental Health is one of six strategic research themes guiding the university toward its Eyes High goals.
The Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary consists of more than 120 scientists and clinician-scientists who are dedicated to advancing brain and mental health research and education. The Institute’s research strengths, in the areas of Brain and Behaviour, Neural Injury and Repair, and Healthy Brain Aging, are leading to new treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders, aimed at improving quality of life and patient care.