Duke University Medical Center has been awarded a $25 million federal grant to research epilepsy in an effort to understand its genetic roots and develop new treatments for the disorder.

The National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, a part of the National Institutes of Health, funded the grant as part of its “Center Without Walls” initiative to promote collaborative epilepsy research. Epilepsy affects an estimated 3 percent of people and research points to a genetic basis, which suggests a personalized medicine approach to epilepsy treatments. But few epilepsy-related genes have been found so far.

“This grant allows us to study the genomes of epilepsy patients on a sufficiently large scale that we should be able to identify many new genes involved in the risk of epilepsy,” principal investigator David Goldstein said in a prepared statement. Goldstein is director of the Duke Center for Human Genome Variation and a professor in the department of molecular genetics and microbiology.

“Our hope is that these discoveries will provide validated targets for the development of new drugs and will help to determine how best to treat each individual patient based on their own genetic profile,” he continued.

Joining Goldstein in running The Center Without Walls are Daniel Lowenstein of the University of California, San Francisco and Samuel Berkovic of the University of Melbourne. The grant will provide up to $25 million over five years to analyze the genomes of 4,000 epilepsy patients from clinics throughout the world. Duke’s Center for Human Genome Variation will conduct the genomics work.

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