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NMDAR-antibody encephalitis: using cutting-edge brain scanning techniques to personalise treatment for a rare brain disease

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Research Training Fellowship*: Dr Michael R Eyre

NMDAR-antibody encephalitis (N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antibody encephalitis) is a rare but devastating type of brain inflammation that mainly affects children and young adults. A child will usually require prolonged hospitalisation due to a range of debilitating symptoms – in severe cases, including intensive care. Unfortunately, many children are left with serious problems that will affect their long-term prospects and quality of life.

This fellowship is co-funded by Action Medical Research and the BPNA (British Paediatric Neurology Association).

Dr Michael Eyre of King’s College London is investigating if advanced brain scans taken early on in a child’s treatment can identify vital clues that could help doctors to personalise their treatment. Ultimately, they hope this will lead to earlier symptom control, shorter hospital stays and reduced long-term effects for children.

How are children’s lives affected now?

Autoimmune encephalitis is caused by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking the brain, causing inflammation and disrupting its normal function. The most common form is called NMDAR-antibody encephalitis (N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antibody encephalitis), which mainly affects children and young people.

“A child may experience a range of rapidly progressive symptoms – including seizures, confusion, memory loss, behavioural changes, abnormal movements and loss of speech – which can be incredibly alarming for patients and their families,” says Dr Eyre.

Thankfully, most children will survive their illness after prompt treatment with immune-dampening drugs. But their recovery will usually be slow – many will spend weeks to months in hospital, with the most severe cases suffering prolonged coma requiring intensive care.

Unfortunately, many children will be left with long-lasting difficulties after they are discharged from hospital – which can seriously impact on their education, employment and quality of life.

Dr Eyre

How could this research help?

“We aim to uncover vital new clues that can pave the way towards new tests that can predict a child’s outcomes early on in their recovery, helping doctors to personalise their treatment,” says Dr Eyre.

The researchers will use cutting-edge brain scanning techniques to look for differences in the brains of children in early recovery from NMDAR-antibody encephalitis compared with healthy children.

“We will assess if these measurements, combined with other comprehensive tests to assess a child’s memory, thinking, mental health and daily activities, can reliably predict their outcomes one year later,” says Dr Eyre.

This study will help shape the design of larger studies aimed at personalising treatment for children – as well as supporting future trials of new treatments.

“We hope our results will ultimately help doctors select the best treatment for each child, improving the chances of controlling their symptoms sooner, shortening hospital stays and reducing the long-term effects on their lives,” says Dr Eyre.

The researchers will also develop child-friendly brain scanning approaches, which may benefit children with other conditions in the future.

 

*Research Training Fellowships:

Each year, Action Medical Research awards these prestigious grants to help the brightest and best doctors and scientists develop their career in medical research.

Project Leader Dr Michael R Eyre, MA (Cantab) MBBS MRes MRCPCH
Location School of Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences, St Thomas’ Hospital, King’s College London
Project Team Dr David W Carmichael, PhD MSci
Dr Ming Lim, BMBS PhD
Dr Enrico De Vita, PhD
Other Locations King’s Health Partners Institute for Women and Children’s Health
Evelina London Children’s Hospital, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
Grant Awarded
Grant Amount £247,811
Start Date
End Date
Duration 36 months
Grant Code (GN number) GN2835

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