Fulbright Research on Epilepsy Dr Janet Mifsud from the Department of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of Malta, is presently following a prestigious Fulbright Scholar Program Advanced Research and University Lecturing Award at the Epilepsy Research and Education Program of the University of Minnesota, in co-operation with Prof. Jim Cloyd, Director of the Program. The conjoint research between the two Universities concerns novel developments in drugs used in epilepsy. The research being undertaken forms part of a major National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke research program (NIH) investigating how knowledge on the effect of genetics in drugs are managed by different individuals (pharmacogenomics). This will ultimately result in a significant contribution to the development of new better targeted antiepileptic drugs.

Epilepsy affects 1% of the world wide population and an estimated 3000 persons in Malta. Such studies leading to discovery of mutations in genes predisposing to the epilepsy could help in new breakthroughs in drug discovery for epilepsy with the support of the pharmaceutical industry.

This three month research programme is also being used to promote exchanges in the various research skills and facilities needed in this area, such as novel techniques in the identification of genotype receptor, transporter and drug metabolism genes in epilepsy, which will be further developed at the research facilities in the University of Malta on Dr Mifsud’s return, thus promoting the University of Malta’s role as a centre of excellence in this area. The research has identified a focused potential for future conjoint collaboration between the two Universities and will be used in long-term conjoint research, to characterize and model population pharmacokinetics in the different sectors of society (pharmacometrics) – of specific relevance to Malta, where according to EU statistics, a large increase in elderly population is being expected. The data from this research will also aid in the audit management of epilepsy and improve plans for the future health service provision for this condition in Malta.

Dr Mifsud has also been invited to collaborate with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to explore further research possibilities with the Schulze Center for Novel Therapeutics which is considered amongst the best research centres in the US on pharmacogenetics.

Dr Mifsud is at present elected Secretary-General of the European Epilepsy Academy and has also been regularly invited to address key scientific conferences on her research in epilepsy. She is also a partner in EU funded research projects on epilepsy together with other European collaborators. Dr Mifsud is an advisor to the Caritas Malta Epilepsy Association and has organized a number of national and international conferences in this field. Dr Mifsud thanked the University of Malta, US Embassy in Malta and the US State Department, (Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) Fulbright Visiting Scholars Program), for making this research stay possible.

Dr Mifsud (third from right) together with Prof. Jim Cloyd (centre) and other research collaborators at the Epilepsy Research and Education Program at the University of Minnesota