Multi-Million Dollar Multidisciplinary Grant Supports Advancement of Epilepsy Research

Sridhar Sunderam, Anika Hartz, Jim Pauley, Björn Bauer
Sridhar Sunderam, UK College of Engineering; Anika Hartz, Sanders-Brown Center on Aging; Jim Pauley and Björn Bauer, UK College of Pharmacy are working collaboratively on the advancement of epilepsy research. | UKPhoto

LEXINGTON, KY. (Oct. 27, 2020) — A $2.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is supporting a multidisciplinary team of University of Kentucky researchers in continuing their work to find therapeutic strategies to resolve neurovascular inflammation and repair blood-brain barrier dysfunction in epilepsy.

Bjoern Bauer, Ph.D., associate professor, College of Pharmacy, is the principal investigator. A group of researchers from Sanders-Brown Center on Aging are co-investigators, including Anika Hartz, Ph.D., associate professor, College of Medicine; Dick Kryscio, Ph.D., professor, College of Arts & Sciences; and Ai-Ling Lin, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Pharmacology & Nutritional Sciences. Jim Pauly, Ph.D., professor, College of Pharmacy; Sridhar Sunderam, Ph.D., associate professor, College of Engineering; and Bret Smith, Ph.D., professor, College of Medicine, are also co-investigators, who will bring their unique perspective and area of expertise to the team. Their collaboration has been a critical pillar to the group's success, allowing them to look at epilepsy from multiple angles.

In 2015, more than 3.4 million adults were diagnosed with epilepsy. While progress is being made, some 30% of people with epilepsy still do not respond well to their current anti-seizure medications. Researchers, including this team from UK, are continuously looking for ways to make a dent in these numbers and to find alternative treatment for patients.

UK's team focuses on the blood-brain barrier in relation to epilepsy and other brain disorders, like brain tumors and Alzheimer's disease, and are making significant strides toward discovering alternative treatment methods.

"This grant will allow us to continue our research and potentially change the way future researchers approach epilepsy and other neurological diseases," Bauer said. "Understanding blood-brain barrier function is critical for devising new therapeutic strategies to enhance brain drug delivery, improving brain protection and treating brain disorders."

The team members believe their multi-disciplinary approach during this study will significantly help in their efforts to advance treatment of patients with epilepsy and other seizure disorders. “I will analyze blood-brain barrier function through utilizing human tissue provided by the UK Alzheimer’s Disease Center tissue bank housed at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging,” explained Hartz. Her colleagues at Sanders-Brown, Lin and Kryscio, will bring their expertise in magnetic resonance imaging and statistical methodology to the team.

Bauer believes collaboration is key to making information accessible to everyone. "That is one of the biggest takeaways from my time at UKCOP," Bauer said. "Science is one of the few universal languages of the world and by sharing it, our potential becomes limitless."

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 R01NS079507. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.