Menon tapped as BrainsCAN Co-Scientific Director

Crystal Mackay // Special to Western News

Ravi Menon knows he and his fellow BrainsCAN researchers are on the clock.

“Seven years sounds like a long time. But it is not, in terms of impact,” the Western researcher stressed. “We are laying the groundwork for a different way of doing neuroscience on this campus and in this country. We’re trying to break down the barriers of collaboration because the brain is awfully complicated. No one person is ever going to figure it out.”

Menon was recently named Co-Scientific Director of BrainsCAN. Sharing the leadership responsibility with fellow Western researcher Lisa Saksida, he follows neuroscientist Adrian Owen to the position.

Menon, Canada Research Chair in Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, is a pioneer in the field of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and has contributed to the use of high-field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods in neurology and neuroscience for more than three decades. Working with neuroscientists at Western and around the world, he has made numerous contributions to understanding brain function, with papers in journals such as ScienceNature NeuroscienceProceedings of the National Academy of SciencesNeuron and other high impact and specialist journals. Menon has more than 175 publications and 23,000 citations.

He earned a BSc (Physics) from the University of British Columbia, an MSc (Medical Physics) from McGill University and a PhD (Medicine) from the University of Alberta.

“This is exciting,” Menon said of his appointment. “I was there at the beginning, writing the initial scientific proposal to the government along with Lisa and the other investigators on the grant. It is gratifying now to implement that scientific vision over the next seven years – or six and a half years. Time is running out already.”

In September 2016, Western’s BrainsCAN: Brain Health For Life initiative received a $66-million investment from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) – the largest research grant in the university’s history. The funding was part of a $900-million investment in 13 postsecondary institutions.

BrainsCAN brings together researchers from across campus under one unifying initiative. The Brain and Mind Institute and Centre for Functional and Metabolic Mapping involve researchers from seven faculties across campus including, Arts & Humanities, Engineering, Health Sciences, Ivey Business School, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Science and Social Science. Most researchers are jointly appointed in at least two departments in different faculties.

As part of the initiative, Western partnered with researchers at McGill University – who received $88 million for its Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives initiative – to leverage both institutions’ complementary expertise to better understand disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injury and schizophrenia. Menon will work as a principal liaison with McGill.

“We’re doing really well so far. We’re nine months in – it’s like having a baby at this point,” Menon said. “We’ve been able to roll out quite a bit of funding – which I think is unusual for most CFREFs at this point.”

BrainsCAN has already funded 11 Internal Accelerator Grants for researchers, as well as five core facilities on campus for researchers doing cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging, including:

  • Computational Core providing insight into whether the link between the brain and the underlying neural circuitry can/should be expressed mathematically;
  • Human Core, housed within the Brain and Mind Institute, offering BrainsCAN-aligned researchers free access to their services; and
  • Imaging Core offering reduced MRI scanning rates to BrainsCAN-aligned researchers through the Centre for Functional and Metabolic Mapping (CFMM).

This fall, the BrainsCAN Board of Directors will debut. Chaired by the Vice-President (Research), the independent body includes four Western deans, as well as individuals from industry and non-governmental organizations.

Menon also expects BrainsCAN’s near future to focus on faculty hires and preparations for the midterm review in 2019.

“Seven years from now, through our research and our work with McGill, I think we will have created a model for a pan-Canadian initiative in brain sciences,” he said. “The progress we have made thus far is pretty amazing. That is in large part due to Lisa and the whole team driving hard for the last nine months. Hopefully, I can help with that load going forward.”