Dedicated Colorado State Neuroscientist Recognized for Research on Mechanisms of Seizures and Injury-Induced Epilepsy

For his years of dedicated research, F. Edward Dudek, Ph.D, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University has been selected to receive the prestigious American Epilepsy Society/Milken Family Foundation Epilepsy Award for Basic Science Research. The award will be presented on Monday, Dec. 9 at a luncheon ceremony during the American Epilepsy Society’s annual meeting in Seattle, Wash.

The award honors individual pioneers in the field of epilepsy research who advance the Society and Foundation’s mutual goal of creating and carrying out lasting solutions to the challenges facing the 55 million people worldwide with epilepsy.

Dudek has spent more than 25 years investigating the electrical signals transmitted between the neurons in the brain that are critical for information processing. He has focused, specifically, on studying the mechanisms that synchronize neurons and the alterations that occur during seizure activity, especially in individuals who have suffered an injury to the brain, one cause of epilepsy.

"Not all brain injuries lead to epileptic seizures," Dudek said. "But when a human being suffers a serious head injury, in a car accident for example, they have a 40 percent chance of developing epilepsy over the next several years. That is, unfortunately, a high proportion of the cases."

Dudek noted that, after an injury that results in brain damage, there is a possibility of developing epilepsy, but there is usually a latent period before the onset of the epileptic seizures. The delay between the brain injury and the onset of epileptic seizures is sometimes weeks, sometimes years. He has studied what happens during that latent period. In many cases, after a cluster of neurons is killed, some of the remaining neurons are able to grow new axons. These axons form abnormal synaptic connections, which may contribute to epileptic seizures. The research by Dudek and his laboratory has focused on how this "reorganized" network of neurons behaves electrically, and how activity propagates among these abnormal connections. Future research by Dudek and his students aims to determine more specifically the role that the new connections play in the epileptic condition.

"Of all the neurological disorders, this is a prime example of an area where neuroscientists ought to be able to really make a difference by obtaining experimental data that translates to improved care of people with epilepsy in the next ten years," Dudek said.

Dudek first became interested in the mechanisms of seizure generation and epilepsy as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California in Irvine, where he had also received his Ph.D. Several years later, while working at the Mental Retardation Research Center at UCLA as a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, he received a Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from the National Institutes of Health for his epilepsy research. It was through a collaborative research project with pediatric neurologists and neurosurgeons at UCLA, where his team of investigators began working on brain tissue removed from children undergoing surgical treatment for catastrophic epilepsy, that he became firmly committed to studying how brain damage leads to epilepsy.

Currently, Dudek is engaged in work on three inter-related projects, each funded by an NIH grant. One is a longstanding grant for his continued research into the basic mechanisms of neuronal reorganization after brain damage. Another grant funds a collaborative effort between Dudek’s research group and Dr. Kevin Staley, a pediatric neurologist with the University of Colorado Health Science Center. A new grant with Dr. Staley is also pending. These NIH grants will total more than $5,000,000 for the next four or five years, and are focused on "translational research," research based on animal models of epilepsy that allow the neuroscientists to design treatments that can be translated to humans.

Epilepsy, also called chronic seizure disorder, has many possible causes, from illness to brain damage to abnormal brain development. Approximately 1 in every 100 Coloradoans suffers from this disorder, which can be devastating, particularly in children. Most people with epilepsy lead outwardly normal lives, but their epileptic seizures often interfere substantially with their quality of life. Although there is currently no cure, seizures can often be controlled with medicine and surgery.

The American Epilepsy Society is the professional society for physicians, scientists and other health care professionals who treat and study the biological, clinical and psychological aspects of epilepsy. Its mission is to promote research and education for professionals dedicated to the prevention, treatment and cure of epilepsy.

The Milken Family Foundation, based in Santa Monica, Calif., was established by Lowell and Michael Milken in 1982 with the mission to discover and advance inventive and effective ways of helping people help themselves and those around them lead productive and satisfying lives. The Foundation advances this mission in the areas of education and medical research, principally through its support of youth education, teacher recognition and medical research programs.

For more information about the Milken Family Award or the American Epilepsy Society contact Ms. Suzanne Berry of the American Epilepsy Society at (860) 586-7505; or for more information about epilepsy, contact the Epilepsy Foundation at (301) 459-3700; or the Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado at (303) 377-9774.