24 Jul 2021

The challenge of understanding Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy: Dr Shobi Sivathamboo steps up

Dr Shobi Sivathamboo
Post-doctoral fellow Dr Shobi Sivathamboo participated in the Epilepsy Foundation of America's Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) Challenge Initiative (SUDEP Challenge Initiative | Epilepsy Foundation) on Wednesday 14 July, 2021. She was one of four finalists selected who are competing for a share of US$1M prize money on offer.

Her presentation entry was titled 'Short-term heart rate variability (HRV) predicts SUDEP' which she presented with her team members and collaborators Professor Terence O'Brien, Head of CCS, Leader of Epilepsy and Neuropharmacology Research Group, Department of Neuroscience (Monash University), and Professors Orrin Devinsky and Daniel Friedman from New York University Langone Health (see screenshot). 

The team found that short-term heart-rate variability, which is a non-invasive and readily obtained marker of autonomic function, predicted SUDEP. Heart rate variability is a validated biomarker for sudden cardiac death in cardiovascular disease populations. Shobi commented that 'our team's entry went really well but we don't know how much we will receive just yet.'

Zoom screenshot of finalists competing in the 2021 SUDEP Challenge.  

All finalists will now await to hear which of them were successful and how much of the US$1M prize money they will be awarded. The Epilepsy Foundation SUDEP Institute challenge aims to predict sudden death in epilepsy or seizures that compromise cardiac or respiratory function in people with epilepsy. These predictors will drive human SUDEP interventions. Since the severity and frequency of seizures is currently the leading risk factor for SUDEP, a biomarker that can predict seizures, especially convulsive seizures that compromise cardiac or respiratory function, will be included in the challenge.

Dr Sivathamboo was also successful in one of the challenge's earlier milestones in which her team received US$10,000.

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