July 2014

Neuroscientist Nets Award to Support Epilepsy Circuit Investigation

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A recent award from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Ethan Goldberg, MD, PhD will support Dr. Goldberg’s neuronal circuit-related epilepsy investigation. Over the course of this five-year award, Dr. Goldberg plans to closely examine how neuronal circuits function, with an eye toward developing novel epilepsy therapies.

“I am thankful to the Burroughs Wellcome Fund for this generous grant,” said Dr. Goldberg. “Gaining a greater understanding of how neuronal circuits function will yield insight into how circuit function goes awry in epilepsy. My work focuses on developing novel treatments for epilepsy in preclinical experimental models by targeting dysfunctional elements of epileptic circuits.”

Dr. Goldberg’s award is one of 48 recently announced by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF), for a total of $21 million in support. A private grant-making organization based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., BWF is “dedicated to advancing the biomedical sciences by supporting research and other scientific and educational activities,” according to its website. Dr. Goldberg’s grant, a Career Awards for Medical Scientists (CAMS), which gives $700,000 over five years, was one of 12 CAMS awarded. Notably, Dr. Goldberg is the first CHOP researcher to win a CAMS.

An attending physician and neuroscientist, Dr. Goldberg studies cellular neurophysiology, large scale imaging of neuronal network function, and mechanisms of epilepsy in experimental models; he is interested in epilepsy and neurogenetics. A brain disorder marked by seizures of varying intensity and type, epilepsy affects approximately 2 million Americans. Though there is no cure for epilepsy, about 70 percent of those who have the disease can have their seizures controlled with medication, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. But for many, epilepsy is a lifelong condition.

With the support of the CAMS grant, Dr. Goldberg will continue work under the guidance of his research mentor at CHOP, Douglas A. Coulter, PhD, studying basic mechanisms of inhibition in the hippocampal dentate gyrus, a sub-region of the brain that is critical for normal cognitive operations and is dysfunctional in epilepsy. He then plans to attempt to correct epileptic circuit dysfunction by manipulating the activity of a subset of neurons called inhibitory interneurons. And in collaboration with Stewart Anderson, MD, Dr. Goldberg is using inhibitory interneurons derived from embryonic stem cells generated in Dr. Anderson’s laboratory to treat epilepsy in model systems.

The BWF award follows the publication of a manuscript by Drs. Goldberg and Coulter in Nature Reviews Neuroscience reviewing recent advances in the field of epileptogenesis. In this paper Drs. Goldberg and Coulter suggest that “a greater mechanistic understanding of circuit function and circuit-level dysfunction in epilepsy will lead to the development of successful and broadly applicable interventions in epileptogenic processes, which remain a primary unmet need in epilepsy therapy.”

“This funding supports individual scientists poised to become leaders in their fields,” said BWF President John Burris, PhD. “These awards are highly competitive and we look forward to seeing great things happen.”

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has a robust epilepsy treatment and research program. Part of Children’s Hospital’s Division of Neurology, the Pediatric Regional Epilepsy Program’s (PREP) team of clinicians, nurse practitioners, and researchers works with families to design personalized treatment plans that best control epilepsy with as few side effects possible.

To learn more about epilepsy research and treatment at CHOP, see the PREP site.

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