Already recognized as one of the world’s top centres for cognitive neuroscience and imaging research, Western’s Brain & Mind Institute has added two new Canada Research Chairs. Its director, Melvyn Goodale, also had his chair renewed for seven years. The chairs are among Canada’s highest research honours.
As the new Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, Penny MacDonald uses modern imaging techniques to understand the nature and evolution of brain function in Parkinson’s disease patients. To develop clinical practice recommendations that reliably identify patients who are at risk, she also looks at how these deficits affect such real-world functions as driving and navigating complex environments.
“Parkinson’s affects approximately 1 per cent of the population over age 60 in the industrialized world, and prevalence is increasing as life expectancy rises,” MacDonald said. “While we are familiar with tremors, slowness and stiffness typical of the disease, we are increasingly recognizing deficits in memory, decision-making and planning, which disproportionately affect quality of life and compromise independence.”
MacDonald, who is also a scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute, hopes to improve our understanding of cognitive symptoms in Parkinson’s, while improving diagnosis and paving the way for treatments for cognitive dysfunction, which is often currently poorly managed.
Stephen Lomber, the new Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Brain Plasticity and Development, studies how the brain changes following hearing loss. This change – known as plasticity – often helps deaf individuals enhance their ability to use their remaining senses, including sight and touch.
“Understanding the natural limits of brain plasticity will help us develop methods of overcoming these limitations to promote increased brain plasticity,” Lomber said. “This increase can lead to improved success in the use of hearing restoration devices, such as cochlear implants.”
Hearing restoration, particularly in our aging population, is gaining even more attention as studies reveal how hearing loss hastens cognitive decline in the aged. Having restored hearing to hundreds of thousands of people around the world, cochlear implants are extremely useful for providing sound sensations to deaf individuals and for making speech comprehension possible. Revealing the plasticity of the cerebral cortex after cochlear implantation will make it possible to develop therapeutic strategies to better serve the needs of the brain, enhance the benefits of cochlear implants and improve hearing restoration success in children and the aged.
Lomber is also a member of Western’s National Centre for Audiology, Canada’s premier hearing science research centre.
In addition to the new appointments, three Western chairholders had their CRCs renewed for another term following a full re-application process, including:
- Goodale, Director of the Brain and Mind Institute, Tier 1 CRC in Visual Neuroscience;
- Amanda Moehring, Faculty of Science, Tier 2 CRC in Functional Genomics; and
- Tilottama Rajan, Faculty of Arts & Humanities, Tier 1 CRC in Literary Criticism.