BC Epilepsy Society and MSFHR partner to maximize health research dollars

Epilepsy researcher Dr. Stuart Cain knows that in the pursuit of innovation, it can be easy to overlook the big picture.

"You can get caught up in just doing the research in a small room for long periods of time,” says the 2011 MSFHR Trainee. “You can quite easily work away without knowing any of the impact that your work has on patients.”

A strategic partnership between MSFHR and the BC Epilepsy Society has helped give Cain a vital connection to those directly impacted by his research. As the recipient of a post-doctoral fellowship jointly funded by the two organizations, Cain has been able to share his work beyond the research community and engage with the BC Epilepsy Society though a number of channels.

Over the course of his award term, Cain met with members of the BC Epilepsy Society in his lab, presented at the society’s annual general meeting, and contributed a newsletter article providing updates on his research.

Cain’s work focuses on proteins called calcium ion channels that are involved in nerve cell excitability — a trigger of epileptic seizures — and finding drugs that target those specific proteins. This research has the potential to improve treatment options for those suffering from epilepsy. The feedback Cain received from patients at the BC Epilepsy Society annual general meeting provided a level of insight not typically available in research circles.

“As a researcher, you’re kind of removed from that aspect. It gets you to appreciate a different aspect of how important your work is,” Cain says. “Ultimately, it’s there to help people.”

Recently, Cain was asked to join the BC Epilepsy Society’s professional advisory committee, which provides advice on medical and social services issues relevant to the society and its stakeholders. Shawn Laari, executive director of the BC Epilepsy Society, notes that Cain is the first researcher to serve on this panel.

Through its relationship with Cain, the BC Epilepsy Society has been able to demonstrate the value of its investment in research.

“We’re very proud when we have one of our funded researchers get published, and that shows to our stakeholders that we made a good investment, that it was money smartly spent in this partnership,” Laari says.

MSFHR and the BC Epilepsy Society have partnered since 2005 to fund four researchers working in areas directly relevant to the society’s mandate. Through this strategic partnership, the BC Epilepsy Society has become the only provincial or state epilepsy organization in North America that directly funds medical research.

“Having a partner like the Michael Smith Foundation, where we’re able to get an incredible peer-review process, the panel of experts they bring to the table, and the dollar-for-dollar matching really is just incredible for us to continue our commitment strategically towards research,” says Laari.

MSFHR, BC Epilepsy Society partner for better treatments

More than 50 million people worldwide suffer from epilepsy, including 40,000 British Columbians. A significant number of these individuals may have negative side-effects due to medication, and roughly 30 per cent do not respond to treatment at all, highlighting the need for further research.

Since 2005, MSFHR and the BC Epilepsy Society have partnered to support leading-edge epilepsy research in British Columbia. In 2006, the two organizations funded Dr. Veronica Schiariti to lead the first BC-focused study of epilepsy prevalence in children. The partnership subsequently supported the work of researchers Kirk Mulatz and Dr. Jun Liu.

For the 2010-2011 Research Trainee funding competition, the BC Epilepsy Society fully funded an award for UBC researcher Dr. Stuart Cain. Dr. Cain’s work is focused on developing a genetic model of absence seizures to better understand their causes. The ultimate aim of this research is to facilitate the design of new drug treatments capable of blocking changes in the firing properties of epileptic nerves during seizures.

“By partnering with MSFHR, we have been able to support some of BC’s best and brightest researchers to undertake projects with the potential to improve the health and quality of life for all individuals living with epilepsy,” said Shawn Laari, Executive Director of the BC Epilepsy Society.