News at Medicine - November 2016 - Local donation has a lot of local impact

Local donation has a lot of local impact
November 28, 2016
Patti Bryant’s daughter, Mary Beth, has been living with epilepsy for 20 years; since she was born.

“It is our life. Her epilepsy is intractable, meaning it will never go away, and catastrophic,” said Patti. “She could die from seizures; she could die in between seizures. We can’t be too active; we can’t go out in the heat. There are so many things that can bring on a seizure. It’s just how we live.”

Epilepsy is a disorder characterized by unpredictable seizures. It varies in severity and affects between one-half and one per cent of the population, but about 10,000 family members, like Patti, are affected by the disorder in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Now, thanks to a generous donation from Epilepsy Newfoundland and Labrador, a researcher at Memorial’s Faculty of Medicine will embark on a new path investigating the causes of epilepsy.

From left: Patti Bryant, vice-president of Epilepsy NL; Dr. Matthew Parsons, researcher; Gail Dempsey, executive-director of Epilepsy NL; and Ronald Stone, president of Epilepsy NL.

The gift from Epilepsy NL will support Dr. Matthew Parsons, assistant professor of biomedical sciences (neurosciences).
“Glutamate is the brain’s most abundant excitatory neurotransmitter, and is used in virtually every aspect of our daily lives for our brain cells to communicate with each other,” explained Dr. Parsons. “However too much glutamate can cause problems, including uncontrollable brain activity, as is observed in epilepsy.”

“The only way for the brain to get rid of excess glutamate is through transporter proteins that essentially work as glutamate sponges,” explained Dr. Parsons. “If our hypothesis is correct, our work may identify the glutamate transporter proteins as potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of epilepsy.” The glutamate system also plays a role in neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington and Alzheimer disease, which Dr. Parsons’ laboratory also studies.

Patti, who works in the Faculty of Medicine, is also the vice-president of Epilepsy NL, was part of the decision to invest research at Memorial. “The funds are staying in the province, for the province, which is so much better for the people here. The researcher was even born and bred in Newfoundland.”

Patti is hoping this research can lead to low stress treatments or more clues to causes. “And, if this research can lead to fewer seizures, that would make our lives a lot easier.”