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Sudden death and epilepsy are the subject of Creighton study

Mar 28, 2023
4 min Read
The Simeone Research Team

Husband-and-wife researchers Tim Simeone, PhD, and Kristina Simeone, PhD, from the Creighton University School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and Neuroscience, have received a $1.5M grant from the National Institutes of Health and its National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to study sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP).

More than one in 1,000 people with controlled epilepsy, who are otherwise healthy, die from SUDEP annually. That number climbs to one in 150 for people whose seizures are not controlled. The Simeones, who are national experts in the study of epilepsy and neurological disorders and diseases, have enlisted Creighton undergraduate and graduate students in the effort to understand this syndrome.

The students get hands-on training in our pharmacology and neurophysiology labs.

We asked them some questions about the SUDEP research project:

Q: How will students be involved in this project?

A: We have undergrads, graduates and medical students, which is really neat because they end up developing friendships. Right now, we have five undergraduates and two to three more will be coming. Most of these students are working on other research projects that have already been funded and four will graduate soon. We just got this funding and so we are interviewing more students to take part in this particular study.

Q: What will they learn while assisting in your research?

A: We are studying what brain regions are responsible if you stop breathing. What brain regions are responsible for giving you that initial gasp which is an indicator that you are resuscitating yourself? We have created a unique collaborative work environment in which all members of our laboratories are part of our family. Our extensive research laboratory space and equipment allows all our collaborators to interact with, and learn from, each other.

Q: What does it add to their experience?

A: The students get hands-on training in our pharmacology and neurophysiology labs, working with mice models and all the protocols involved in that. The undergrads, especially, get to meet and befriend graduate students, medical students and even postdocs, which is a very broadening experience.

Q: What is the potential real-world impact of this research?

A: Everybody’s heard of SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but SUDEP actually takes more lives a year. SUDEP is something that epilepsy clinicians have not often discussed with their patients, perhaps because it is a troubling subject. There needs to be more awareness, and the more information we gather, and the more we talk about these things, the more neurologists talk about it with their patients, the more we can identify the indicators and then prevent or postpone it.