Orange Alert

Syracuse University Biologist Awarded National Institutes of Health Grant

James Hewett to use grant to study epilepsy

Sept. 4, 2014, by Sarah Scalese

James Hewett
James Hewett

James Hewett, an associate professor of Biology and neuroscientist, was recently awarded a $440,000 Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Hewett will use this three-year grant to engage undergraduate and graduate students in research to investigate possible pathways in the brain that function to suppress epilepsy.

“To receive this grant is a great honor and presents an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the millions of individuals suffering from epilepsy,” says Hewett, who joined the College of Arts and Sciences in 2011. “Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders, affecting about one percent of Americans. It is characterized by spontaneous unprovoked seizure activity, which can have devastating effects on the normal daily activities of children and adults. Although epilepsy can be present at birth, brain injury can greatly increase the risk of acquiring the disease regardless of age.”

Unfortunately, there are currently no known cures for the disease, with the exception of surgical intervention in a limited number of cases. Additionally, a large number of affected individuals are refractory to current antiepileptic drugs. That’s why Hewett says epilepsy research is so critically important.

“My research will use gene-targeting approaches to modify the function of specific subsets of neurons in the brain that are likely to be affected by epilepsy. It is my hope that this research will ultimately contribute to the development of novel approaches to prevent the acquisition of epilepsy in at-risk individuals or to treat, and even perhaps reverse, established epilepsy.”

Hewett’s colleagues say receiving an NIH AREA grant is a tremendous accomplishment.

“Jim is truly a trailblazer,” says Sandra Hewett, the Beverly Petterson Bishop Professor of Neuroscience professor of biology, and Executive Director of Neuroscience Studies. “Not only is he the first in our department to receive an AREA grant but his research could possibly positively impact millions of Americans living with epilepsy. I am very proud of Jim’s achievement and am thrilled with his progress as well as others involved in the neuroscience program here at Syracuse University.”

“Jim joined the faculty only a few years ago and already he’s having a tremendous impact,” says Ramesh Raina, chair and associate professor of biology. “I look forward to seeing what Jim’s research reveals and I am confident that we will be hearing many great things from him as he continues to study epilepsy, a devastating neurological disorder.”

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Sarah Scalese