Meet Scott Baraban, PhD

In this Researcher Spotlight meet DSF’s Scientific Advisory Board (MAB) member, Scott Baraban, PhD.

Dr. Baraban studies Dravet syndrome using zebrafish, and his laboratory’s work has led to advancements in drug discovery and repurposing for Dravet syndrome. DSF funded Dr. Baraban’s zebrafish drug screens through our grants program in 2011, and currently, some of the drugs identified in these screens are in human clinical trials, representing a true “aquarium to bedside” approach to treating human disease.

This month National Geographic highlighted the story of Cronutt, a sea lion with acquired epilepsy that had brain surgery to introduce neurons from a pig into his brain in hopes that it would correct the source of his seizures. At the time of the surgery, Cronut’s health was severely declining and this was seen as his last hope. Amazingly, now over a year later, Cronutt remains seizure-free and healthy. The amazing transplantation effort was led by Dr. Scott Baraban from the University of California, San Francisco, who had previously been working on similar experiments in mice. While this work is still a long way from being used in a human, it is an important first step in the proof-of-concept that this could be an approach to treating epilepsy in a patient. Several limitations remain, such as adapting the appropriate cells to be used in humans would need to be determined- whether that is specialized pig cells (such as used for Cronutt) or another source. Additionally, Cronutt’s epilepsy was caused by toxic chemicals from the ocean, as opposed to an underlying genetic cause such as in Dravet syndrome, which further complicates the interpretation. Nevertheless, this is an incredible story that will hopefully drive the future of therapeutic approaches for patients living with intractable epilepsy.

Dr. Baraban has been a long-standing member of DSF’s Scientific Advisory Board, and DSF is lucky to have a leader in the field of epilepsy research helping to advise and guide our foundation’s research goals. His work is an example of his dedication to improving therapies for those living with epilepsy- including sea lions like Cronutt.