Discussing epilepsy with a pint (of science) in hand
Vincent Magloire is a research associate in the Department of Clinical and Experimental Epilepsy at UCL, London, UK which is dedicated to the study of epilepsy and to developing new treatments, from anti-epileptic diets to gene therapies. He is particularly interested in studying the mechanisms involved in the generation and maintenance of seizures. Here he talks about his experience in presenting at Pint of Science last year.
Last year, I was invited to speak about epilepsy at the Pint of Science festival. As scientists, we are accustomed to speaking in front of specialists in our field but not in front of the general public. “What if I fail to deliver a clear message? What if I fail to engage them in the conversation? How am I going to keep it jargon-free?” are just some of the thoughts that swirl around in our head when trying to communicate research to a lay audience. The theme of the event was “Brain control – a new treatment for epilepsy?” It was organized by enthusiastic volunteers in a cozy pub in central London. At 7:30 pm, speakers, organizers and audience members were ready and waiting, pint in hand – the night could start!Discussing science in this unique setting is an incredibly powerful way to raise awareness and initiate conversation with the general public Click To Tweet
Discussing science in this unique setting is an incredibly powerful way to raise awareness and initiate conversation with the general public on the important topic that is epilepsy. Epilepsy is not rare and can affect all of us directly or indirectly. Indeed, 1% of the population worldwide is affected by this disease, representing 600,000 people in the UK alone. It can be genetic in origin, or caused by tumors, brain injury, or even infections. 90 new patients are diagnosed every day and at least 5% of us will have a one-off epileptic episode during our lifetime.
Interestingly, susceptibility to develop epilepsy evolves throughout life, with children and the elderly being most at risk1. Indeed, the brain endures more changes than ever during these periods (development or degeneration), rendering the nervous system more prone to seizing. Men are also more likely than women to develop epilepsy1, which may in part be due to lifestyle differences. Importantly, more than 30% of patients have uncontrollable epilepsy and are unresponsive to treatment2. In these cases, the only solution is surgery to remove the brain area (called focus) that generates the epileptic episodes. However, this treatment is possible only for a limited number of patients and is very traumatic, despite its obvious benefits.
In this context, developing new therapeutic strategies and increasing awareness of this disease is crucial for patients and their families. Taking part in the Pint of Science festival was, therefore, an incredible opportunity to communicate how epilepsy is generated and how we are trying to prevent and treat it. We discussed how our brain handles the wealth of information from our environment every day thanks to a subtle balance between two systems – the excitatory and inhibitory systems – and how epileptic episodes result from a sudden change in this balance in favor of excitation. We also engaged on how we could prevent epileptic episodes by manipulating one or the other system, as well as how different gene-therapy strategies could restore this balance.
Heading into the event, I was nervous, not so much about speaking but mostly about answering unpredictable questions from such a broad audience. I was out of my comfort zone. However, by the end of the evening, I was happy to have had the opportunity to present my work to this often neglected audience. I was amazed by the sharpness and diversity of the questions, from what is the minimum number of brain cells necessary to generate a seizure (we don’t know…but some think that one could be enough!) to what is the standard procedure when a person is having an attack.
By putting me in a room with patients and their relatives, Pint of Science brought me face to face with the reality of epilepsy and took me out of my comfortable science bubble. It also showed how much what we do matters to those outside of the scientific community, and in this sense was a motivation booster for me. It was a fantastic experience and I hope to have the chance to do it again (drinks are free for the speakers…).
- McHugh, J. C. & Delanty, N. Chapter 2 Epidemiology and Classification of Epilepsy. in International Review of Neurobiology 83, 11–26 (Elsevier, 2008).
- Schmidt D. & Loscher W. Drug Resistance in Epilepsy: Putative Neurobiologic and Clinical Mechanisms. Epilepsia 46, 858–877 (2005).
Opinions in this blog post are that of the author, and not necessarily that of Hindawi. All photos were provided by Vincent Magloire. The text in this blog post is by Vincent Magloire and is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Illustration by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.