Professor Sarosh Irani is an Associate Professor, Consultant Neurologist and Wellcome Trust Clinical Fellow at Oxford University
In 2013 Professor Irani won the BMA Vera Down grant for research into neurological disease. Here he explains the vital impact of his project:
Encephalitis is a serious condition affecting 6000 people in the UK every year. Anyone can be affected including the very old and the very young. The syndrome of encephalitis is inflammation of the brain and is associated with rapid onset of memory lost, seizures and loss of movement in parts of the body.
While traditionally thought to be caused by viruses, recently it has become clear that encephalitis can frequently be due to a patients’ own antibodies accessing their brain. These antibodies can be detected in patients’ blood and spinal fluid as diagnostic markers. Importantly, antibodies may be effectively removed with available therapies and this removal often corresponds closely with clinical improvement. In fact, some patients make an almost complete recovery from a condition which may otherwise produce long-term seizures with mental impairment.
Despite these discoveries, many patients with encephalitis still have no known cause. Furthermore, we know that some adults with unexplained forms of epilepsy harbour the same antibodies, suggesting our knowledge about encephalitis has the potential to improve the lives of people with other neurological diseases.
The funding received from the BMA foundation has enabled a project which aims to identify antibodies from the blood and spinal fluid of patients with unexplained forms of encephalitis, and forms of epilepsy. We have had success with our recent discovery of a particular antibody, and we are currently searching for other novel antibody targets.
We are proud of the part our research has played in providing hope that more patients will be able to make a full recovery from this debilitating syndrome.