UI Receives $1.4 Million Grant to Study Sudden Death in Epilepsy

George Richerson, MD, PhD, professor and head of the Department of Neurology at the University of Iowa, recently received a $1.4 million research grant to investigate the causes, predictors, and methods of preventing sudden unexpected deaths in epilepsy (SUDEP).

SUDEP is the leading cause of death in both children and adults with seizure disorders. An estimated 50,000 Americans die every year from prolonged seizures and other seizure-related causes. SUDEP accounts for up to 17 percent of those deaths.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke is funding a national research consortium to identify warning signs that will enable physicians to detect and ultimately prevent SUDEP. Richerson will collaborate with experts at four other U.S. medical centers, including Baylor College of Medicine, the University of California, University of Michigan, and Northwestern University.

The research at the UI will include studies in mice to determine how seizures affect breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, and other vital bodily functions, and the role that the brain chemical serotonin plays in preventing cardiovascular and respiratory failure after a seizure. Richerson will also study people diagnosed with epilepsy in collaboration with a team led by Matthew Howard, MD, professor and head of neurosurgery.