Grant looks to bring brain researchers closer together

Organizers see a first-of-its-kind grant program as more about collaboration, rather than competition, in supporting the efforts of researchers to address challenges in brain health.

The McGill-Western Collaboration Grant program supports neuroscience and neuro-informatics research from new and/or established collaborative teams working on projects of all types and sizes. To qualify, each project must be co-led by one McGill University and one Western University faculty member.

The program arises from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) combined investment of $150 million in McGill’s Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives and Western’s BrainsCAN initiatives in 2016. That outlay set the groundwork for a pan-Canadian network of researchers working together to uncover new ways to treat, prevent and cure brain disorders, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injury and schizophrenia.

A condition of the funding was the development of a joint collaboration plan between Western and McGill that would align the neuroscience research programs at both institutions.

“McGill has world-class researchers who complement certain strengths at Western. The ability to seek joint funding though our CFREF programs allows our researchers to collaborate, rather than compete, to find solutions to some of the major challenges in neuroscience,” said Ravi Menon, BrainsCAN scientific co-director. “Problems around how the brain works – or doesn’t work – are so immense they simply can’t be tackled with the expertise at just one institution.

“This grant program provides a way to tackle these challenges.”

Applicants should be encouraged by the program’s aim to cultivate and support high-risk, high-return research.

“Traditional granting agencies are very conservative – you almost have to have your project completed before you apply,” Menon explained. “That discourages blue-sky ideas. Those ideas could be transformative yet are viewed as highly risky.

“The collaboration grant – and our CFREFs, in general – allow the freedom to propose ideas that are potentially transformative and to get enough pilot data to convince traditional agencies that the project is viable.”

Details about the grant and application forms can be accessed through the BrainsCAN website, brainscan.uwo.ca. Application deadline is May 1.