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FutureNeuro Deputy Director awarded funding from the Health Research Board and Medical Research Charities Group

Professor Gianpiero Cavalleri, FutureNeuro Deputy Director has been awarded funding through the Health Research Board (HRB) and Medical Research Charities Group (MRCG) Joint Funding Scheme. His project is among 14 studies that were funded by the €3.2m scheme.

He will try to determine if certain bacteria present in the gut (the microbiome) might be providing the environmental trigger that, alongside specific genes, causes autoimmune epilepsy. Autoimmune epilepsy is a rare form of drug-resistant epilepsy characterised by frequent seizures in later life. Professor Cavalleri's project is co-funded by Epilepsy Ireland.

"We propose to recruit 100 individuals with a specific form of autoimmune epilepsy, and their siblings who haven’t developed the disease. We will collect saliva and stool from each individual, to extract human and bacterial DNA, respectively. Using state of the art DNA sequencing techniques, we will characterise the nature and number of bacteria present in the gut of people with autoimmune epilepsy and their genetically-related, but unaffected siblings. We will compare these profiles to see if the gut of people with autoimmune epilepsy has a distinctive microbiome profile. Identifying an environmental trigger behind autoimmune epilepsy would represent a major step forward both in our understanding of autoimmune epilepsy and also for epilepsy in general, as it would represent the first link between gut microbiota and epilepsy, a link that is increasingly being made for other central nervous system diseases. In addition, it may guide a set of treatments targeting the bacteria, or the immune response to the bacteria."

Autoimmune epilepsy is a rare form of drug-resistant epilepsy characterised by frequent seizures in later life. Patients may respond to immune therapy, but causation of disease is poorly understood, and more targeted treatments are required. This gap in knowledge is the major priority for epilepsy specialists, and the area of greatest interest to patients. Recently, it was found that people with this condition often carry a set of genes related to the way the immune system sees foreign bugs. However, the majority of people who carry those genes do not develop autoimmune epilepsy. This has led to the idea that autoimmune epilepsy develops as a result of an environmental factor which interacts with this genetic predisposition. Professor Cavalleri's team proposes that certain bacteria present in the gut (the microbiome) might be providing the environmental trigger that, alongside specific genes, causes autoimmune epilepsy.

Commenting on the awards, Dr Darrin Morrissey, Chief Executive at the HRB said: "There are some very impressive ideas among these new research awards. The ingenuity of the research, as well as the impact that it will have on people's lives demonstrates why it is so important to build a health research culture at the heart of our health services."