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Licong Cui, PhD awarded $1.7 million for epilepsy informatics study

Assistant Professor Licong Cui, PhD
Assistant Professor Licong Cui, PhD

UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics (SBMI) Assistant Professor Licong Cui, PhD was recently awarded a grant to develop risk assessment tools that can aid clinicians in better preventing Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP). The $1.7 million, five-year grant was awarded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

The Epilepsy Foundation states that SUDEP is the leading cause of death in people with uncontrolled seizures. Additionally, epilepsy-related causes of death account for 40% of mortality in individuals with epilepsy, according to Medscape.

An important strategy in lowering incidences of SUDEP is the identification and communication of variable SUDEP risk factors to patients who could be at risk. Unfortunately, systematic individualized assessment of SUDEP risk factors is not yet available. Cui’s research aims to address that issue via the development of informatics resources and tools.

“Recent estimates indicate that SUDEP is responsible for approximately 7,000 deaths each year in the United States and Europe; it is the second most common cause of the number of adult life years lost after stroke,” said Cui. “This research is motivated by the realization of untapped informatics opportunities that could potentially make an impact in this area.”

To accelerate SUDEP research, NINDS, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), funded the Center for SUDEP Research. The Center is comprised of 14 institutions from across the nation that are working collaboratively in a broad spectrum of basic science and clinical approaches. UTHealth is the leading institution for the Center for SUDEP Research. The goal is to study possible biological mechanisms underlying this potentially preventable mortality while developing predictive biomarkers for interventions that could lower SUDEP incidence. Cui said “I previously worked in the Informatics and Data Analytics Core for this center and this is a conducive, collaborative environment for the development of the research activities proposed in our project.”

Cui’s project is titled “An Informatics framework for SUDEP Risk Marker Identification and Risk Assessment.” During this study, Cui will work with three other UTHealth researchers including two fellow SBMI faculty members. SBMI Professors Cui Tao, PhD and GQ Zhang, PhD will work alongside Cui. Zhang is also vice president and chief data scientist for UTHealth as well as a professor in the Department of Neurology at McGovern Medical School and at the School of Public Health. Professor Samden Lhatoo, MD is also from McGovern Medical School and will collaborate on the research.

“Dr. Lhatoo is an expert in SUDEP, Dr. Tao is an expert in medical informatics with a focus on big data modeling and analysis, and Dr. Zhang is a leader in clinical research informatics and computer science,” noted Cui. “When their expertise is combined with the resources here at SBMI, our team will have the clinical, data science, and informatics environments covered so I can advance the proposed aims.”

The research team plans to develop a SUDEP Risk Marker Extraction system for automated extraction of known and reputed SUDEP risk markers from the multimodal patient data collected by the Center for SUDEP Research. This data includes patient epilepsy monitoring unit evaluations, follow-up forms, and electrophysiological signals.

Next, the team will automatically extract risk factors using tools intended to be accessible to clinicians and communicated to patients by means of appropriate channels. Cui and her colleagues intend to disseminate the planned tools in Electronic Medical Records or related registry systems. For Cui, the ultimate goal of this research project is to help reduce SUDEP related morality.

“My colleagues and I strongly believe this study can lead to evidence-based SUDEP risk assessment tools that help clinicians and patients manage potentially modifiable risks, leading to both an overall reduction in SUDEP mortality and improved epilepsy patient care,” added Cui.

The project period for this award began on May 15 and ends in April 2025.

published on 06/02/2020 at 1:00 p.m.
-Chelsea Overstreet

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