Breakthroughs in understanding brain chemistry point to new drug targets

Developing new treatments for childhood epilepsies and neuro-developmental diseases is the aim of a new partnership between RCSI (FutureNeuro, the SFI Research Centre for chronic and rare neurological diseases based at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. announced today. The 3-year partnership aims to guide scientists to new gene targets to control some of the devastating childhood epilepsies that do not respond to existing therapies. The research will be conducted from Professor David Henshall’s lab in FutureNeuro, the SFI Research Centre for Chronic and Rare Neurological diseases based at RCSI.

An estimated 2,000 children in Ireland are resistant to current treatment methods for epilepsy, which is one of the most common neurological conditions. This means that many children with epilepsy are having numerous, uncontrolled seizures every day. Over a prolonged period, this can have a devastating effect on their cognitive abilities.

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The partnership will build on recent breakthroughs in understanding how gene activity is controlled in the brain. This ultimately determines how signals are sent and received by neurons – the excitable cells in the brain - and explains why some areas of the brain suddenly fire altogether causing a seizure.

The team will look for unusual gene expression patterns in brain tissue and cell models of childhood epilepsies, focusing on the genome’s so-called ‘dark matter’ - stretches of DNA which do not code for proteins but work as molecular switches to activate or inhibit protein production.

The research partnership will be led by a dedicated team of neuroscientists and bioinformaticians at the FutureNeuro Research Centre in RCSI who will work together on the project over the next three years.

FutureNeuro, which is funded by Science Foundation Ireland, aims to deliver advances in understanding disease initiation and progress. With this understanding, and through industry partnerships, new technologies and solutions for the treatment, diagnosis and monitoring of chronic and rare neurological diseases will be developed.