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Graduate Research Prize Winner 2016

Symon KariukiI attended primary and secondary education in my rural home of Kirinyaga County in Kenya. I was admitted to the College of Health Sciences in University of Nairobi to study an undergraduate degree in Nursing Sciences from 2003-2007. While undertaking the mandatory clinical internship at Kenyatta National Hospital, I developed an interest in mental health and neurological disorders. I successfully obtained a competitive 6-month research internship with KEMRI-Wellcome Trust research Programme in Kilifi, where I worked under the supervision of Professor Charles Newton on a series of projects on pathogenesis of acute seizures and epilepsy.

Since I began my research career, I have published seminal papers that refined the role of falciparum malaria in the risk of acute seizures in Kenyan children, determined the human genetic polymorphisms associated with acute seizures in African children and characterised the clinical features of epilepsy and convulsive status epilepticus in Africa. In 2010 I was awarded a British Commonwealth Scholarship to study MSc in Clinical Neurosciences of Epilepsy at King's College London, and published my dissertation work on the association between childhood epilepsy and later behavioural and emotional problems in a British cohort. Thereafter I obtained a competitive Wellcome Trust Research Training Fellowship in Public Health and Tropical Medicine in 2012 to support my DPhil studies at Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford, supervised by Professors Kevin Marsh, Alan Stein and Charles Newton.

My DPhil project focused on estimating the burden, determining the risk factors and examining the behavioural and emotional consequences of acute seizures in young Kenyan children. This is the largest epidemiological study of mental health problems in young African children, in whom mortality and morbidity are high, and can therefore benefit from early initiation of interventions. Findings from my project showed that behavioural and emotional problems are as common in Africa as in other parts of the world and that they are associated with preventable risk factors. The project further demonstrated an independent association between acute seizures and behavioural and emotional problems which may be related to the seizures, underlying neurological damage or a genetic susceptibility. The results support initiation of interventions to control behavioural and emotional comorbidities of acute seizures in African children, and the need to set up future studies to understand the role of genetics in mental health problems.

Publications (selected)

Risk of convulsive epilepsy following acute seizures in Kenyan children. Bistervels IM, Kariuki SM, Newton CR. Epilepsia Open 2016; Aug 8 DOI: 10.1002/epi4.12013

The association between childhood seizures and later childhood emotional and behavioral problems: Findings from a nationally representative birth cohort. Kariuki SM, Newton CR, Prince MJ, Das-Munshi J. Psychosom Med 2016; Feb 18 [epub ahead of print]

Evaluation of Psychometric Properties and Factorial Structure of the Pre-school Child Behaviour Checklist at the Kenyan Coast. Kariuki SM, Abubakar A, Murray E, Stein A, Newton RJC. Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health 2016; 10:1.

Differential Plasmodium falciparum surface antigen expression among children with Malarial Retinopathy. Abdi AI, Kariuki SM, Muthui MK, Kivisi CA, Fegan G, Gitau E, Newton CR, Bull PC. Sci Rep 2015; 5: 18034.

Incidence, causes and phenotypes of acute seizures in Kenyan children post the malaria-decline period. Serem GK, Newton CR, Kariuki SM. BMC Neurol.2015 Oct 6;15(1):180. doi: 10.1186/s12883-015-0444-8.