FINDERS: An alliance of clinicians, scientists to treat epileptic seizures
Normally, Meriem Bensalem-Owen, MD, and Brian Gold, PhD, might have never had the chance to work on projects together.
Dr. Bensalem-Owen is a physician who spends much of her time at the patients’ bedside, reviewing video-EEG monitoring studies, or in clinic treating patients with epilepsy, while Dr. Gold is a researcher who studies age-related brain and cognitive changes in the lab.
But thanks to the University of Kentucky College of Medicine’s Alliance Research Initiative, they have joined forces to better localize, and ultimately treat, epileptic seizures.
Dr. Bensalem-Owen, professor in the department of neurology, and Gold, professor in the department of neuroscience, are co-principal investigators of the Functional Imaging for NeuroDiagnostics for Epilepsy and Resective Surgery (FINDERS) Alliance. This team aims to improve diagnosis methods and care for seizures through the development of new brain imaging methods, as well as the advancement of neuroimaging systems in clinical practice.
“We are the epitome of what this Alliance was intended to be, a group of people who would have never really necessarily collaborated before,” Gold said. “We really are trying to be a model for showing that clinicians can be part of a research team and work together with scientists toward a common goal.”
FINDERS brings together a wide range of specialists including radiologists, neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuropsychologists as well as neuroscientists, neuroimagers, physicists, biostatisticians, and other researchers from the colleges of medicine, engineering, and public health. The team is supported by the Alliance Research Initiative, UK HealthCare, the Office of the Vice President for Research, and the Neuroscience Research Priority Area.
The first step for the multidisciplinary team is attempting to better recognize where a seizure occurs in the brain. That process is enhanced by having a team that balances clinical and research expertise. Physicians treat patients with epilepsy and then bring their expertise and enthusiasm to researchers who use modern-imaging technology. Together, they can find solutions.
“The mindset is very different between the clinicians and the PhDs, and it's really nice to sit down and go through these ideas together,” Dr. Bensalem-Owen said. “We really complement each other very nicely.”
A relatively new team, FINDERS faced challenges starting a research team right before a global pandemic, including the immediate need to switch to virtual meetings and the navigation around lab and clinical restrictions early on.
Over the past year, the team capitalized on associations with colleagues across the United States, Canada, and even Europe. These connections have allowed FINDERS team members to build upon emerging discoveries and handle challenges more efficiently rather than “reinventing the wheel.”
For example, one project has group members examining electrical recordings in the brain that show when a seizure happens and then trying to combine this process with a functional MRI that gives more information about the seizure’s location in the brain. Members of FINDERS are able to reach out to local, national and international colleagues who have dealt with similar issues, saving both time and trouble. Thus, the science moves forward, which helps patients – and that is the main goal.
Because it is a relatively new team, FINDERS is still in the process of obtaining grants, but there is a lot of potential. Dr. Bensalem-Owen and Gold see their team’s work enduring for years.
“Our ultimate success is going to be our lasting connection and collaboration going forward, which is going to spawn multiple potential projects,” Gold said. “At the end of the day, the work is going to be worth the wait because what we are building could snowball into something that I think is very positive and could extend beyond this Alliance, and that's what I look forward to.”
For more information about FINDERS and other Alliance teams, visit www.med.uky.edu/alliance.
FINDERS Alliance Team Members:
Timothy Ainger, PhD, Assistant Professor – Department of Neurology
Jihye Bae, PhD, Assistant Professor – College of Engineering
Meriem Bensalem-Owen, MD, Professor – Department of Neurology
Kevin Donohue, PhD, Professor – College of Engineering
Ima M. Ebong, MD, Assistant Professor – Department of Neurology
Riham El-Khouli, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor – Department of Radiology
Brian Gold, PhD, Professor – Department of Neuroscience
Larry Goldstein, MD, Chair and Professor – Department of Neurology
Jean Gotman, PhD, Professor and Lab Director – McGill University
Susan Hollar MBA, R.EEGT. - Neurodiagnostic Services
Peter Hardy, PhD, Associate Professor – Department of Radiology
Siddharth Kapoor, MD, Associate Professor – Department of Neurology
G. Qutubuddin Khan, MD, Associate Professor – Department of Neurology
Richard Kryscio, PhD, Professor – College of Public Health
Zabeen K. Mahuwala, MD, Assistant Professor – Department of Neurology
Sally V. Mathias, MD, Assistant Professor – Department of Neurology
Farhan Mirza, MD, Fellow at MNI – Department of Neurosurgery
M. Elizabeth Oates, MD, Chair and Professor – Department of Radiology
David Powell, PhD, Assistant Professor – Department of Neuroscience
Flavius Raslau, MD, Associate Professor – Department of Radiology
Sridhar Sunderam, PhD, Associate Professor – College of Engineering
Ruta Yardi, MD, Assistant Professor – Department of Neurology
Julie Youssefi, MD, Epilepsy Fellow – Department of Neurology