Australian Epilepsy Project featured on ABC's 7.30 program


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ABC’s 7.30 program hears from people with epilepsy who are advocates for the Australian Epilepsy Project. The project is seeking Australian Government funding.

On 28 July, the Australian Epilepsy Project featured on 7.30, a public affairs TV show on Australia’s ABC network. The project is one of ten in the running for major support from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). The MRFF is an Australian Government scheme supporting health and medical research and innovation. The scheme aims to improve lives, build the economy and strengthen the Australian healthcare system.

The chief investigator of the Australian Epilepsy Project is Professor Graeme Jackson. He is based at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and has an honorary affiliation with the University of Melbourne. Professor Jackson is also a clinical neurologist at Austin Health.

As many as a quarter of a million people in Australia have epilepsy. The associated costs are estimated to be $A12.3 billion a year. The unpredictability of seizures, and their effects on the brain, can make life, work and study difficult for people with epilepsy.

Australian Epilepsy Project advocate Rachel Vella experienced epileptic seizures as a teenager. As she explained on 7.30: “Once I started having more violent seizures at night, I felt quite confused and not in control of my body, which for a 15-year-old is quite scary. I would always have to have people looking over me.”

In an ABC article accompanying the 7.30 report, Ms Vella said: "I couldn't do things that normal teenagers take for granted, like driving, working, even studying. I couldn’t retain a lot of information and even my memory was not quite good."

Epilepsy increases a person’s chances of experiencing depression, anxiety, migraine and stroke.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, Professor Jackson identified the part of Ms Vella’s brain that was responsible for her seizures. She had surgery and has been seizure-free ever since.

The Australian Epilepsy Project aims to improve epilepsy diagnosis and treatment in Australia. It will combine advanced brain imaging with cognitive and genetic testing. The project involves researchers in neuroimaging, genetics and neuropsychology.

The University is the lead organisation on the project, which is hosted at the Florey. The project is also associated with or supported by other Australian universities, medical research institutes, epilepsy organisations, and companies.

The Australian Epilepsy Project has just applied for stage two of the MRFF’s Frontier Health and Medical Research initiative. In the first stage of the initiative, ten applicants were given one year and $A1 million to develop their project proposals. In stage two, the applicants from stage one are invited to bid for up to $A100 million over five years to pursue their projects. The successful projects will be announced later this year.

Banner image: Rachel Vella experienced epileptic seizures as a teenager. Now seizure-free, she is an advocate for the Australian Epilepsy Project, led by chief investigator Professor Graeme Jackson. Image by Michael Findlay Photography, supplied by Australian Epilepsy Project.

First published on 6 August 2020.

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