Epigraph Vol. 12 Issue 3, Summer 2010

Report on the First IBRO/ILAE Neuroscience School — Fundamentals on Epilepsy: Neurobiological, Clinical and Therapeutic Approaches

Giuliano Avanzini
Giuliano Avanzini

Held at Sunlodge Hotel, Accra, Ghana - 16 - 22 January 2010
Organizers: Giuliano Avanzini and Marina Bentivoglio
Local Organizers: Albert K Akpalu and Sammi K Ohene

The Neuroscience School included an introductory session in the arrival day, five full working days and a conclusion session in the departure day. Each full working day included four main lectures in the morning, practically oriented activities in the afternoon (with one partially free afternoon on Tuesday 19 January) and evening sessions. Each lecturer was asked to save some minutes for very specific questions. Moreover, the first hour after lunch was devoted to answer more structured questions on the morning speakers that the students, divided in three groups, prepared during the lunch time. 

Practically oriented activities included:

  • Technical lectures (including lectures of animal models of epilepsy, in vitro studies, etc)
  • Tutoring lectures / sessions led by one faculty member and with the involvement of all the other teachers. Such lectures / sessions included: how to give an oral presentation, how to write a CV, how to apply for fellowships, how to prepare a grant application, how to set up a lab for studies in epileptology, how to design a clinical trial, and how to design a questionnaire-based study.
  • Workshops in groups (students were divided in three groups rotating among three tutors, each responsible for a different module); these workshops were held in two afternoons.

The first workshop included three modules (histopathology of epilepsies, models of epilepsy, and video-EEG). The second workshop was held at the Department of Neurophysiology of the University Hospital and included one module on practical EEG recording (three students volunteered as patients) and two modules on how to read an EEG (using the EEG recordings that some Faculty members had brought).

  • Preparation and presentation of oral communications: work of students in six groups (with one tutor each) to prepare an individual oral communication of 10 minutes (8 minutes plus 2 minutes for discussion); oral communications were then delivered by each student in two parallel sessions in front of an audience of students and teachers.
  • Preparation and presentation of grant proposals: work of students divided in three groups to prepare a grant proposal. These were then “submitted” as Power Point presentations to a “Review Committee” that scored the proposals. The topics chosen by each of three “consortia” of students were very interesting (epidemiology of epilepsy in an African area, stigma of epilepsy in Africa, and testing of antiepileptic herbal medicines). The proposals were reasonably well-designed and very well presented (the proposal on herbal medicine “got the grant” consisting of chocolate cookies).
  • Preparation of a fictitious court trial (“neuroscience court trial”) and undertaking of the court trial: work of students to prepare the court trial in two teams (a Prosecution team and a Defense team, led by the Prosecutor and Defense Lawyer, respectively, who were Faculty members). For this latter activity, the accused was “Febrile Seizures” and a Prosecution Committee defined the charges (Cheating: Febrile Seizures are the first manifestation of severe genetic epilepsy; Murder: Febrile Seizures can evolve into Febrile Status Epilepticus, causing death; Assault: Febrile Seizures represent a cause of severe epilepsy; Theft: Febrile Seizures may lead to neurological impairment, hence rob the individual of a normal life; Threat: Febrile Seizures threaten the psychological well-being of the mother / father). A Judge, a Chancellor (Faculty members) and a Jury (made of students) were defined. The public trial session was held during the last half day and was an opportunity for some fun after a very heavy course, but was also a way to discuss very actively several aspects of febrile seizures.
1st IBRO - ILAE Neuroscience School 2010
1st IBRO - 2010 - Accra School participants

The students participated very actively and with very high motivation in all the activities, gave some interesting information about some ongoing or planned tests in animal models of herbal medicines, and in general about the organization of the health care, teaching and research in their countries. The students also compiled a “glossary” (the translation of the words “brain” and “epilepsy” in their respective African language). They compiled evaluation forms (for each lecture and each activity) in which they overall expressed high appreciation of the School.

The Faculty members were intensely engaged through the duration of the course. The local organizers, Albert Akpalu and Sammy Ohene, did an excellent job dealing with all problems in a very effective and smooth way. Especially cumbersome were the visa procedures, which required a great effort from the local organizers (not only with invitation letters, but also with local arrangements at the airport), who should really be praised for their efforts.

One strong point of the School was the continuous inter-personal interaction that was encouraged consistently throughout the period, with personal and group discussions and intense brainstorming amongst the participants. On the graduation night, Giuliano Avanzini summed up the mutual feeling of every participant of the School, observing that the participants had spent together, during the intensive one week course, more time than they had spent with their respective families in the last three months.

Giuliano Avanzini, Co-Organizer