Research profile: Nathan Barnett's research on epilepsy

Nathan Barnett

Navigating epilepsy to provide more options for people with this condition is the passion of Nathan Barnett, a dedicated neuroscience researcher.

Nathan completed a PhD in Neuroinformatics at Torrens University Australia and is CEO of NETA, a virtual research institute using genomics to solve epilepsy.

His experience with epilepsy contributes to his strong passion for conducting rigorous experimentation and gaining cutting-edge insights that will help with epilepsy treatment and prevention. Critically, he is determined to bring focus to the rare forms of epilepsy and identify new biological targets.

On World Purple Day, Nathan shares his story about how his research with Torrens University and the connections he has built with fellow researchers, has inspired him to set up NETA and make a positive impact with his study.

Where did your journey with Torrens University begin?

I embarked on my journey with Torrens University's Master of Public Health program in 2019, driven by a passion for understanding and addressing public health challenges. Through rigorous academic study and practical experiences, I deepened my knowledge in neurosciences while obtaining a degree in Public Health and then a PhD at Torrens University.

How did Torrens University empower you to create your own not-for-profit organisation?

My idea for a charity start-up was prompted by questions from my success coach who asked me what I was going to do after my studies - inspiring me to think about how I could become a patient advocate through my research.

My bioinformatics training during my PhD, my research focus on epilepsy and my own condition led to the idea of starting NETA, a charity that would combine the latest research to help people with this condition.

My supervisor, from the Centre for Healthy Futures, Dr Jude Taylor was an expert mentor in bioinformatics and Prof Craig McLachlan is very supportive of my charity journey, identifying potential partnerships - we intend to collaborate significantly.

How common is it to have epilepsy?

Currently, there are 65 million people worldwide living with epilepsy. There are many causes of epilepsy, some genetic, some disease related such as brain tumours.

In my foundation, we are interested in rare critical genes causing epilepsy.

What are some of the challenges living with epilepsy presents?

Living with epilepsy can take a toll on a person's emotional well-being. People can have a fear of having a seizure in public, anxiety about the future, frustration with medication side effects, and concerns about social acceptance.

Epilepsy may impose limitations on various aspects of life, including employment, education, and recreational activities. Certain careers or activities may be off-limits due to safety concerns or legal restrictions such as defense industry jobs or those requiring continued alertness and attention such as an air traffic controller.

How can your research potentially improve the diagnosis, treatment, or management of epilepsy? 

It will help us understand what gene mutations are contributing to the disease and gain more knowledge about the mechanisms for underlying diseases – all of which will contribute to identifying treatments.

What recent breakthroughs or discoveries have you made in the field of epilepsy research?

We have found some potential targets for rare sub-types of epilepsy, and this could provide evidence for re-use of existing therapeutics.

We have also identified targets for at least two rare diseases and have found that many medications used for other chronic conditions may also used for epilepsy.

What makes your research different?

While there are many individuals who are experts in the field and who have a solid research base, there are not many focused on rare disease sub-types of epilepsy and using a bioinformatics approach, which is a scientific subdiscipline that involves using computer technology to collect, store, analyse and disseminate biological data such as DNA and amino acids about these sequences. This data can increase our understanding of health and disease and contribute to patient care.

We are re-using open-source data for the public good – which is exciting.

Do you see a future 'cure' for epilepsy?

Definitely - if it’s a gene mutation. For example, it was recently identified that HIV can be switched off in cells using CRISPR technology. From our side, we aim to identify disease causing genes that target those genes either from the management of drugs or the possibility that other companies may identify other gene editing approaches.

Find out more about Centre for Health Futures (CHEF)
Cookies help us improve your website experience.
By using our website, you agree to our use of cookies.