Sridhar Sunderam, associate professor in the F. Joseph Halcomb III, M.D. Department of Biomedical Engineering, is part of two new projects that are funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and National Institute of Aging (NIA), respectively. Sunderam leads UK’s Neural Systems Lab, which develops ways to model, track and perturb brain state in humans and animals in the hope of providing better diagnostic and therapeutic alternatives for sleep disorders, epilepsy and motor impairments caused by neural injury.
A major focus in Sunderam’s lab is how sleep is affected in disorders of the brain--specifically epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease--and whether improving sleep can produce beneficial outcomes.
In 2015, more than 3.4 million adults were diagnosed with epilepsy. While progress is being made, some 30 percent of people with epilepsy still do not respond well to their current anti-seizure medications. Investigations of promising treatments invariably go through preclinical testing in rat or mouse models of epilepsy. However, monitoring seizures and measuring treatment effects in animals requires intensive review of video recordings or invasive EEG recordings, which are time and resource intensive. Sunderam, in collaboration with Signal Solutions, LLC, a UK startup developing solutions for noninvasive monitoring of sleep and behavior in animals, has developed a method for noninvasively detecting seizures using piezoelectric motion sensors. Following a successful Phase I study of the feasibility of this method, this project has recently received a $1.7 million commercialization grant from the NINDS to Signal Solutions and UK with Sunderam as the Principal Investigator. Doctoral student Dillon Huffman has played a major role in this project and expects to continue to work with Signal Solutions after his graduation. The team hopes to develop a turnkey system for epilepsy monitoring that epilepsy researchers around the world can use in their own investigations. In Sunderam’s lab, this would facilitate ongoing studies of dynamic sleep modulation in epileptic mice with the goal of alleviating their seizure burden.
More recently, Sunderam’s interest in sleep modulation has extended to the study of Alzheimer’s disease as well. Interactions with researchers across UK led to a multidisciplinary collaboration between investigators from the Departments of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry (M. Paul Murphy), Neuroscience (Marilyn Duncan, Adam Bachstetter), Biology (Bruce O’Hara) and the F. Joseph Halcomb III, M.D. Department of Biomedical Engineering (Sunderam) to look at ways in which sleep influences Alzheimer’s disease progression. The team did a pilot study on a triple-transgenic mouse model and found promising evidence that sleep fragmentation may promote the deposition of amyloid plaque in the brains of these mice while sleep enhancement may slow it down (unpublished results). This project has recently been funded by a $3.8 million research grant from the NIA.