Gehlbach, Richerson to investigate carbon dioxide role in SUDEP

Brian Gehlbach, MD, clinical professor in Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Occupational Medicine, and George Richerson, MD, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Neurology, received a five-year, $3.0 million R01 grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). The funding will support research into Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) and the role central COchemosensation plays in the pathogenesis of seizure-induced respiratory depression.

SUDEP is the leading cause of death for people with refractory epilepsy, which usually occurs after a period of severe seizure-induced respiratory depression. The mechanisms responsible for intense decreases in breathing during the period following a seizure have not been clearly defined, but may involve an inability of the brain’s central chemoreceptors to respond appropriately to carbon dioxide.

Gehlbach and Richerson hope to identify novel candidate biomarkers for SUDEP risk, which could lead to the development of new preventive treatments for SUDEP. “We hypothesize that postictal hypoventilation will be more severe in patients with low interictal or postictal COchemosensitivity.” Their study aims to enroll 335 subjects with epilepsy over a five-year period.

The project builds upon clinical and basic work conducted by the University of Iowa SUDEP Research Program, a part of the NINDS-funded Center for SUDEP Research, for which Dr. Richerson served as a PI. In addition to Gehlbach and Richerson, the research team for the project includes UI epileptologists Rup Sainju and Mark Granner, as well as Deidre Dragon, Harold Winnike, Patrick Ten Eyck, and Chaorong Wu.

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