The European project «ECMED» (acronym of Extracellular Matrix in Epileptogenesis) is aimed to design, validate and bring into practice new innovative therapeutic strategies to further the development of a treatment and a diagnostic approach for the management of epilepsy.
The project, which has a duration of three years and a budget of € 3.5 million, is co-funded by the European Union within the Horizon 2020 research and innovation framework program through a Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant.
ECMED will be developed through a public-private consortium led by the University College London (UK), and will engage other 10 organizations from several European countries. The project will benefit from complementary resources and capabilities combining academic knowledge and basic research with applied research and biotechnology.
Collaborating partners include Fondazione Instituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italy); Deutsches Zentrum fuer neurodegenerative erkrankungen ev (Germany); ITA-Suomen Yliopisto (Finland); Leibniz-Institut fuer Neurobiologie (Germany); Instytut Biologii Doswiadczalnej Im. M. Nenckiego Polskiej Akademii Nauk (Poland); Universiteit Antwerpen (Belgium); Academisch Medisch Centrum bij de Universiteit van Amsterdam (The Nederlands) and Unversité d'Aix Marseille (France), together with enterprises Iproteos (Spain) and Vect-Horus (France).
The conventional treatment of epilepsy has been symptomatic, where antiepileptic drugs treat the symptoms (seizures), without addressing the underlying cause of the disease . For that reason, it would be more appropriate to call them 'anticonvulsant drugs'. There is, therefore, a large unmet need of treatments that modify the disease, especially in acquired drug-resistant epilepsy.
The approaches to the study of the disease have been focused on neurotransmitters, receptors and pathways, and on the changes that these may experience during the development of epilepsy (epileptogenesis). However, there is increasing evidence that proteins in the extracellular matrix (ECM) play a fundamental role in neural development and regeneration, synaptic plasticity, neuronal excitability and neural network activity, which are fundamental factors in the pathogenesis of epilepsy.
The ECMED consortium aims to fill this gap by developing a completely new therapeutic and diagnostic approach for the treatment of epilepsy, based on the study of the extracellular matrix, an approach that goes beyond of the current state of the art in research and translational experimental epilepsy. This strategy is based on several important breakthroughs made in molecular signaling mechanisms suggesting an active role of the extracellular matrix in regulating neuroplasticity and the activity of the neuronal network.
The consortium makes use of the substantial multidisciplinary expertise it has acquired across Europe in a wide range of research areas including neuroimaging, electrophysiology, histopathology, molecular neuroscience and pharmacology. Many fundamental discoveries about the role of the extracellular matrix in cell signaling and neural network have been possible through studies carried out in the laboratories of the consortium members. This proposal aims to take advantage of this experience and to put into practice the translational potential of these critical findings in the study of epilepsy.
From Basic Research to Clinical Practice
The translation of basic research into clinical practice is the cornerstone that will articulate collaboration among the members of the consortium. The findings of the academic partners will be reported directly to industrial partners, who will then develop new therapies that will be subsequently tested by their academic counterparts. This strong two-way interaction will provide a unique training network yielding significant advantages.
"The contribution of Iproteos to the project will be an excellent opportunity to go further in the test of our new drug, discovered by Iproteos, for the treatment of epilepsy within a collaboration in a excellence network composed of leading European research groups in the field of epilepsy ", Teresa Tarragó, Co-founder and CEO of Iproteos and reseach associate in the IRB Barcelona, says.
The consortium will also create a research and training program for young researchers who will have, not only information derived from basic research and clinician expertise, but also the experiences and information provided by the patients themselves, their families and non-profit organizations devoted to the epilepsy study.
Epilepsy is one of the most common serious diseases of the nervous system, and one of the most widespread because it affects people of all ages and social classes. At least 50 million people worldwide (6 million people in Europe) suffer from epilepsy (source WHO). The disease has a tremendous impact not only for the individual but also for society; the estimated total cost of epilepsy in Europe in 2010 was 13.8 billion euros.