Javits Award Funds New Research into Role of Infection in Epilepsy

May 06, 2019 11:30 AM

Author: Stacy W. Kish


Temporal lobe epilepsy is a seizure disorder that may result from head trauma, childhood injuries, tumors, brain malformations, and infections. Karen Wilcox, PhD, Chair of Pharmacology and Toxicology at University of Utah Health, received a $2.6 million Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) to explore the role of infection in an intractable, non-genetic-form of epilepsy. 

“It is an extraordinary honor to receive the Javits award and to be recognized by NIH,” Wilcox said. “The proposed experiments will lead to a greater understanding of the role of viral and immune contributions to acute seizures and the factors that trigger epilepsy.” 

Viral infections of the central nervous system have been linked to increased risk for seizures, extended or clustered seizures (status epilepticus), and the development of chronic epilepsy. Wilcox’s colleagues at U of U Health previously developed the first animal model of viral-induced epilepsy. 

“This grant gives the lab additional resources to really delve deep into the mechanisms through which immune cells in the brain contribute to seizure activity,” Wilcox said. “If we can figure out the mechanisms, we can develop new therapies.”

Wilcox and her team plans to use the viral-induced epilepsy animal model to explore how an infection triggers molecular mechanisms that instigate seizures. They want to understand the role of microglial cells in the infection process. They also plan to evaluate new treatments that may be effective against seizures or prevent infection-induced epilepsy.

“I am particularly excited about studying microglial cells,” said Robert Fujinami, PhD, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs at U of U Health and co-investigator on the grant. “These cells produce inflammation in the brain that contributes to the generation of seizures.  Blocking this cell’s contribution to seizures is a novel goal.”

Viral infections, like West Nile virus, Japanese encephalitis virus, HIV, and Herpes simplex virus can cause inflammation in the brain. While most people recover from viral-induced encephalitis, a small percentage of patients develop epilepsy later in life. 

The funding will also allow Wilcox to continue to train future epilepsy investigators. 

The Javits award was created to honor the late Senator Jacob K. Javits of New York to support researchers who have a distinguished record of substantial contributions in a field of neurological science and who can be expected to be highly productive over the next seven years. 

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute Of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R37NS065434. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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