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Mark Kramer has won a $253,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award for his work in better understanding the brain mechanisms that drive seizures in people with epilepsy. He is the third member of the College of Arts & Sciences mathematics and statistics department to win a CAREER award in the past five years.

“I’m excited to use the award to continue our interdisciplinary research efforts to understand human epilepsy,” says Kramer, a associate professor of mathematical neuroscience. “We’ll use the award to build and analyze mathematical models of the human brain’s activity during a seizure. It’s a highly collaborative effort, which would not be possible without the support of my fantastic colleagues in the department and amazing collaborators at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital.”

Epilepsy, the condition of recurrent, unprovoked seizures, is a brain disorder that affects nearly three million people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The brain processes that cause seizures are poorly understood, and in one-third of patients with epilepsy seizures are not adequately controlled. Kramer says he hopes his research will lead to novel approaches in management of epilepsy. Each year, the NSF gives out about 20 CAREER awards in the mathematical sciences nationally to tenure-track assistant professors (Kramer was promoted to associate professor after he applied for the award). The other two CAREER winners are both now associate professors, Sam Isaacson, who won one of the awards in 2013, and Uri Eden, who received one in 2011.

“Mark is an outstanding young colleague who is recognized internationally for his pioneering research in mathematics and neuroscience,” says Tasso Kaper, a CAS professor and department chair. “He addresses fundamental questions about brain rhythms, the onset of epileptic seizures in humans, the dynamics of networks of neurons in the cortex, as well as precursors to Alzheimer’s disease. His modeling work for these pressing biological and medical problems has led to important advances in the mathematical sciences, including for dynamical systems, differential equations, and statistics.” Kramer takes a multidisciplinary approach, Kaper adds, “working on joint research grants with medical researchers and biomedical engineers.”

Kramer’s description of his project for the NSF notes that while animal studies provide “powerful methods to uncover the potential mechanisms for epilepsy, how the results from these studies relate to human epilepsy remains unclear.” And while some mechanisms of epilepsy may be consistent in animal models and humans, he says, there are also differences that are critical to understanding and treating the disorder.

To improve understanding of the mechanisms behind human seizures, he will analyze brain voltage recordings made directly from human patients and use that data to develop mathematical models of the activity of individual brain neurons and interacting neurons. Further from his NSF project description: “The mathematical models will then be used to study the biological mechanisms that support the different brain voltage rhythms that appear during seizure and how these rhythms move across the surface of the brain.”

Kramer is exceptionally gifted at explaining his field, Kaper says, and he will incorporate his research on the mechanisms of seizures into an undergraduate course in computational neuroscience, a textbook and online course in neuronal data analysis, and undergraduate and graduate research training in computational neuroscience.

A version of this article originally appeared on BU Research.

Sara Rimer can be reached at