Purple Day 2018
By: Priscilla Chan
Seizures are scary, but that doesn’t mean we have to be scared of them.
Over 500 million people live with epilepsy worldwide. For many of them, seizures are a reality they face regularly. Individuals with epilepsy have the same abilities and intelligence as those without this neurological condition. However, the stigma and misconceptions associated with epilepsy continue to prevent these people from leading fulfilling lives. So, what can we do to help?
We can wear purple!
On March 26, 2018, members of the Toronto Western Hospital and Krembil Research Institute gathered to celebrate Purple Day. Founded in 2008, Purple Day is an international grassroots effort to raise awareness and dispel myths surrounding epilepsy with the hopes of providing a sense of community to people living with epilepsy. The fervour and commitment to community and outreach has been made possible by the work coming out of the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit and co-director of surgery program, Dr. Taufik A. Valiante and his team. This year’s event was bigger and better than ever before thanks to the efforts of nurse practitioners (Alina Mednikov and Darcia Paul), Epilepsy Foundation representative (Jonathan Lucas), Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering PhD student (Chaim Katz), and IMS alumnus (Sumayya Mehmood).
Purple Day hosted representatives from Epilepsy Toronto and EpLink in order to educate the general public about the differences between epilepsy and seizures. While seizures are independent events caused by sudden electrical activity in the brain, epilepsy is a neurological condition that is characterized by recurrent seizures. The most common types of seizures are convulsive in nature, but seizures can also mimic a momentary lapse in consciousness.
Attendees were given the chance to experience seizures characterized by a lapse
of consciousness through a virtual reality simulation. UCB, a global biopharmaceutical company, allowed people to learn about epilepsy through the eyes of Jane, a young woman who developed epilepsy after suffering from a traumatic brain injury. By listening to her inner thoughts before, during, and after a seizure, individuals learned how seizures interrupt daily activities and affect patients emotionally. Furthermore, Toronto Regional Police were also present to demonstrate how to appropriately respond to someone experiencing a seizure.
In addition to advocating for and bringing awareness to epilepsy, Purple Day was also a welcoming opportunity for researchers of the Krembil Research Institute to showcase their exciting and innovative research on epilepsy pathology and therapies. As strong believers in scientific outreach, Mehmood and her Neuron to Brain lab colleagues helped organize poster presentations so that the public could learn about the cutting-edge epilepsy research taking place in Toronto.
Dr. James Eubanks’ lab shared their understanding of the link between epilepsy and Rett syndrome. Furthermore, Dr. Liang Zhang and his students explained the strengths of using ischemia-induced models of epilepsy to explore antiepileptic therapies. Similarly, students from Dr. Peter Carlen’s lab explained how cerebral organoids could generate spontaneous electrical activity, which could lead to their use as an in vitro model of epilepsy. These pre-clinical models of epilepsy show promise in expediting the discovery of not only seizure mechanisms, but also potential therapies. While most seizures can be controlled by medications and/or surgery, as many as 20 to 30% of cases are considered uncontrolled or intractable. To this end, colleagues of Dr. Taufik A. Valiante’s lab described how music could serve as a therapy for treatment-resistant forms of epilepsy.
One of the central objectives of Purple Day is to educate the public about epilepsy. But more importantly, the event now serves to establish connections between the research community and the individuals impacted by epilepsy. In Mehmood’s own words, “outreach and community involvement has been a central part of [my] research and it provides meaning to the research we all do.” This year’s event was certainly a success and we can’t wait to see how Purple Day will continue to grow. Until then, keep wearing purple!