Behavioral Neuroscience Researchers Model Epilepsy

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Behavioral Neuroscience lab at UPEI has developed a promising new animal model for the study of temporal lobe epilepsy. The temporal lobes, part of the brain responsible for emotion and memory, are located on each side of the brain, at about ear level. Seizures arising from this region usually affect consciousness of the victim and are sometimes preceded by warnings of overwhelming feelings, memories, or hallucinations.

For obvious reasons, it is not possible to carry out exploratory research aimed at testing new therapies for disorders and diseases directly on humans. Laboratory animal models, in this case with rats, are set up to mimic as closely as possible the human situation. The model devised by the Behavioural Neuroscience team is currently under patent process in the United States. It could prove useful in the development of drug therapies for the prevention and control of this type of epilepsy.

The UPEI lab is run by Dr. Cathy Ryan from the Department of Psychology; Dr. Tracy Doucette from the Department of Biology; and Dr. Andy Tasker from the Department of Biomedical Sciences. Funding comes from a variety of national sources including NSERC and the Atlantic Innovation Fund.

"Animal models serve an important function in the development of new drugs to treat epilepsy. We are hopeful that our model will prove to be useful in predicting beneficial drug effects for some types of seizure disorders," says Dr. Ryan.

In fact, interest has already been shown by a pharmaceutical company in Denmark. Graduate student Daphne Gill has just returned from ten weeks in Europe, where she was working with the company to help characterize the model. "It was certainly an unforgettable learning experience, providing an exciting opportunity for further understanding of the model,and#148; says Gill.

Back at UPEI, the team, consisting of faculty, technical staff, undergraduate and graduate students, Paul Bernard, Melissa Burt, and Daphne Gill are now working to further expand their understanding and application of their epilepsy model.

Epilepsy is not the first disease model considered by the group. The team has recently completed projects where they expanded and improved upon sets of functional tests designed to detect behavioural deficits in both adult and neonatal animal models of stroke.

Strokes occur when the blood flow to a region of the brain is impaired, causing disability and even death. With funding from the Canadian Stroke Network, Drs. Ryan, Doucette, and Tasker have established structured methods for testing long-term effects of potential drug treatments for strokes. This work led to a promising drug trial last year in the adult stroke model.

Behavioural testing is a sensitive method for assessing brain function and the development of these extensive tests has many exciting applications. For example, the long term behavioural consequences of prenatal exposure to drugs and toxins and the screening of potential treatments for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's can be addressed using these methods.

Heather Hughes
Faculty of Science
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