Funded by the nonprofit Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) and the U.S. Department of Defense, the three-year study seeks to identify the root causes behind why a person may develop epilepsy after he or she has suffered brain trauma, including sports-related concussion and focal contusion injuries.

Five Virginia Tech groups are heading the study: The School of Neuroscience, the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTCRI); the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine; and the College of Engineering. All of the research leaders have wide experience in brain injury and neurological disorders.

“These are the type of injuries you get falling off a skateboard or playing contact sports,” said Harald Sontheimer, executive director of the School of Neuroscience and the I.D. Wilson Chair in the College of Science. Sontheimer is also director of VTCRI’s Center for Glial Biology in Health Disease and Cancer and has a career-long interest in epilepsy.

“The unique aspect of the research is that we are specifically examining which form of injury causes epilepsy and whether there are predictive biomarkers to tell who will or will not develop epilepsy as a result of injury,” Sontheimer said.

Michelle Olsen, an associate professor of neuroscience, will spearhead identification of genes and their subsequent protein products that are common to different injury models. She has expertise in juvenile head trauma, genomics, and proteomics.

Stefanie Robel, an assistant professor of Neuroscience and also at VTCRI, (Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine),  has studied the effects of concussions and traumatic brain injuries on glial cells within the brain and will lead work at her EEG laboratory in Roanoke.

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