You have received an "Eccellenza Professorial Fellowship" from the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF. What does it mean to you to receive this Fellowship?
Receiving the Eccellenza Professorial Fellowship validates the research line that I have established since 2017. It allows me to now plan my work over a longer horizon. In preparation for this position, I was fortunate to obtain the Ambizione grant as well as the support from the Velux foundation and the Wyss Center for bio- and neuroengineering, which enabled me to come to Bern and establish my research group on epilepsy at Inselspital. With the support of the department of Neurology, I have put in place a number of research projects from the bench to the bedside.
You have been selected from the SNF for your research project «Dynamical control of seizures». What is the project about?
Epilepsy is a common disorder of the brain affecting about one percent of the general population. One of the worst aspects of the disorder is the unpredictability of seizures. In 2017, I have discovered that in fact seizures recur cyclically and that epileptic brain activity, measured by EEG, fluctuates rhythmically over days. Most people with epilepsy have their own periodicity for periods at higher risk for seizures. The goal of the project is to use an implantable EEG device to track epileptic brain activity over months and forecast days at higher risk for seizures, akin to anticipating storms in weather forecasting.
What made you chose the University of Bern for your Project?
A definitive aspect is the competitiveness of the University and Inselspital. Both institutions value long-term scientific developments, the latter seeks to integrate scientific and technological advances into clinical practice. More specifically, the department of Neurology at Inselspital is one of the few places I have seen where clinicians, basic scientists and clinician-scientists interact on a daily basis. We speak the same language - that of neurons, circuits and connectivity - and use that language to read two sides of the same coin: the mechanisms of the brain, and the disorders that affect it. In my Eccellenza project, as before, we will work with patient and in animal models of epilepsy to accelerate the understanding of key mechanisms and strategies to attain our goals.
What is the social relevance of your project?
Currently, any information that patients and their family could receive about the daily risk of seizures could enable better coping with the disorder. It does not need to be a prediction of the exact hour and minute of the next seizure, which in my opinion is impossible, but an estimate of the risk over an upcoming period, say 24 hours. Many aspects are currently unknown, and the project is in that sense ambitious: the evaluation of the risk in real-time may prove difficult, the feedback given to patients may be found challenging to interpret or to act upon. Among people with epilepsy who will contribute to our research, some may find that seizures are not so random after all. For these persons, it would be a leap forward.