UAB professor awarded multiple grants to fund research that aims to localize seizures in patients diagnosed with epilepsy

Rachel Smith, Ph.D., professor in the UAB School of Engineering and principal investigator in the Neural Signal Processing and Modeling lab, was recently awarded multiple grants to fund research in seizure onset localization.

1204970991900961.bKLFLyQlKNztnMuX0Pp6 height640Rachel June Smith, Ph.D.,
Photography: Lexi Coon
A University of Alabama at Birmingham professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the School of Engineering is pioneering research in the field of seizure onset localization. Rachel June Smith, Ph.D., has been at UAB a little over a year and was recently awarded multiple grants to help fund the research being done in the Neural Signal Processing and Modeling lab.

Focusing primarily on epilepsy, the NSPM lab is utilizing computational methods to pinpoint the origin of seizures in the brain. The researchers electrically stimulate the brain while recording stereo electroencephalography, which uses electrodes placed inside the brain, to create unique maps of neural networks that could allow clinicians to determine where in the brain seizures begin for each individual person suffering from the condition.

“On EEG, the brain often produces waves that are at specific frequencies, and we are aiming to find resonant frequencies for particular brain regions,” Smith said. “That is the primary goal because we believe those neural circuits might be triggering seizures when driven at the resonant frequency.”

Smith believes that, if the specific frequencies can be identified, it can tell something about how and where seizures are starting. Understanding how the brain reacts to stimuli is the first step in that direction.

“Although medication exists for those living with these conditions, many are still impacted by seizures even after being on multiple strong medications,” Smith said.

The lab is also utilizing magnetoencephalography, a non-invasive tool used to capture and analyze brain patterns. MEG is used to measure the magnetic fields of the brain.

“The goal is to use MEG data to build similar computational models and perform a virtual stimulation in those models and see how well it correlates to electrical stimulation with the intracranial electrodes,” Smith said. “If we can get complementary clinical information from a completely noninvasive measure of the brain, it would be revolutionary in this field.”

Stream neuro Rachel Smith, Ph.D., professor in the UAB School of Engineering and principal investigator in the Neural Signal Processing and Modeling lab, was recently awarded multiple grants to fund research in seizure onset localization.As principal investigator, Smith is cognizant of the importance of this research and acknowledges the way it can transform the lives of those living with epilepsy.

“This research is pivotal in the surgical treatment of epilepsy because, if we can accurately determine the region of the brain that is the root of the seizure using stimulation, we can significantly expedite the intracranial monitoring process, allowing more patients to undergo surgical treatment for epilepsy and ensuring those patients have better surgical outcomes,” Smith said.

Smith was recently awarded two national-level awards for her epilepsy research. Smith was awarded a $100,000 grant from CURE Epilepsy to aid her research in collecting resting state EEG and MEG data to build computational models for virtual stimulation. CURE Epilepsy is the leading nongovernmental agency fully committed to funding research in epilepsy whose mission is to find a cure by promoting and funding patient-focused research.

Smith was also awarded a $50,000 Junior Investigator Award from the American Epilepsy Society to help fund the research being done to pinpoint resonate frequencies. The award was part of the AES 2023 Early Career Fellowships, which awarded $1.19 million in research grants and fellowships to 25 researchers.

“I am so overwhelmed and grateful to receive these awards,” Smith said. “I’m honored that CURE and the AES recognize the significance of the work we are doing here.”

Smith acknowledges UAB and the School of Engineering for their continued support of her research endeavors.

“The School of Engineering has been so supportive, and the clinical connection to the research we have been doing has been so seamless,” Smith said. “I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet and interact with patients, and it provides great motivation because the work we’re doing is practical and the data is more than just numbers and statistics. These are real people that we are helping with the work we’re doing here.”

Smith was also recently awarded a $10,000 pilot grant from the Consortium for Neuroengineering and Brain-Computer Interfaces— a university research pilot center.

In 2022, UAB launched the Neuroengineering and Brain-Computer Interface Initiative. Under this program, a network of UAB researchers work to combine neurobiology, neuroimaging, neural interface technology and the latest developments in neuroscience with engineering and analytics to synergize and advance research, education and patient care at UAB and beyond.

“The Neuroengineering Initiative has been wonderful to be a part of and is a true testament to how collaborative UAB is,” Smith said. “It not only recognizes the importance of the research we are doing, but is further positioning UAB to be very competitive in the field of neuroengineering on a national and a global scale.”