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Why do epilepsy and mental health conditions often occur together?

Research awardFellows Award programme

Funding period2018-2021

InstitutionKEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme



Dr Symon Kariuki is looking at genetic information from sub-Saharan African populations to understand more about epilepsy and mental illness. 

The project

Studies have shown that epilepsy, a neurological disorder where people have a tendency to experience seizures, often co-occurs with mental health conditions.

And it is thought that genetics are key to understanding why that is the case. 

Dr Symon Kariuki will be investigating which genetic risk factors are involved in epilepsy and mental health conditions, offering hope of improved treatments for those affected.

The process

Genetic codes in DNA give the instructions for how our bodies are built.

We know that certain codes can put someone at a greater risk of developing diseases and can be used to understand which pathways might be going awry.

Symon is interested in discovering the genetic risk factors that put someone at increased vulnerability to epilepsy and mental illness.

He’ll be working with genetic samples from his research site in Kenya, where there’s a high prevalence of these conditions but treatment is often unavailable.

He’ll compare the genetic information of people with epilepsy, psychosis and other mental health conditions to those of healthy people. He'll also examine if there are shared genetic information among the three neurological and mental health conditions. Any differences will highlight which genetic combinations could be putting someone at a greater risk.

The potential 

Discovering genetic risk factors associated with these conditions enables us to understand more about how they develop and identify new opportunities for treatment.

African populations have a greater diversity in their genes but at the moment, most genetic research involves caucasian people. This novel approach - of studying different ethnicities – offers potential to find important new genetic risk factors, which could impact mental health care on a global scale.

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