How does memory work? And what exactly happens in the brain when memory and learning start to unravel?
These are puzzles Tim Bussey, Western Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, has been trying to solve in a career of ground-breaking research that uses rodents, rewards and non-invasive touchscreen technology to understand brain circuitry in humans.
Bussey has made deciphering cognitive diseases a matter of mice and milkshakes.
Now Bussey – professor of physiology and pharmacology at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and director of the BrainsCAN Rodent Cognition Research and Innovation Core – has been named a Fellow in the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS).
Joining Bussey as new Fellows in CAHS are Brain & Mind Institute researcher Ingrid Johnsrude and pregnancy-and-exercise expert Michelle Mottola.
CAHS brings together Canada’s top-ranked health and biomedical scientists and scholars to make a positive impact on the urgent health concerns of Canadians.
Fellows, who are drawn from all disciplines across Canada’s universities, health care and research institutes, evaluate complex health challenges and recommend strategic solutions.
“I’m not a person who seeks out awards and honours but when you get something like this, you know you’ve done something right,” Bussey said. “And the thing about the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences is that it’s an organization that does such great stuff in the community. Being a CAHS Fellow helps connect us to new networks across different disciplines and specialties, for the betterment of human health,” Bussey said.
Bussey’s team, including research and life partner Lisa Saksida who was named a CAHS Fellow last year, has been a pioneer in touchscreen technology intended to solve cognition issues in people by first examining cognition in mice.
They reward mice with milkshakes for performing different iPad touch tasks that depend on specific regions and circuits in the rodent’s brain.
The research may lead to improved treatments for people with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Bussey and his research team are leaders in a network that includes about 400 touchscreen labs globally and whose work capitalizes on developments such as optogenetics: using light to switch specific neurons ‘on’ or ‘off’ to pinpoint where learning is taking place.
Ingrid Johnsrude, professor and Western Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, is head of the CoNCH (Cognitive Neuroscience of Communication and Hearing) lab at Western’s Brain & Mind Institute.
Her research examines how the brain is organized for speech and language perception. She trained as a clinical neuropsychologist, and uses neuroimaging and psychoacoustic methods to study how cognitive control and knowledge facilitate speech comprehension when background sound makes it hard to hear.
In particular, she has contributed novel magnetic resonance imaging methods to study brain-behaviour relationships. She has discovered how familiar voices help speech perception in noisy environments, and her work on brain organization supporting speech perception has been influential. Her work is especially clinically relevant for older people, who often have difficulty understanding speech in noise.
Johnsrude has published more than 100 papers and articles, which together have been cited over 22,000 times. Her postdoctoral and graduate trainees have gone onto professional careers in audiology and clinical psychology, to industrial research careers at international and Canadian companies, and to academic positions in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Europe.
Michelle Mottola is professor of kinesiology in the Faculty of Health Sciences. She has been instrumental in shaping the importance of exercise and physical activity for pregnant and postpartum women. Her group published 12 systematic reviews providing overwhelming evidence that exercise is safe during pregnancy.
This helped develop the 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity throughout Pregnancy published jointly by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiologists.
Her work has helped shift clinical practice from recommending “just be more active,” to prescribing daily physical activity to reduce pregnancy complications and optimize the benefits of a healthy lifestyle for both mom and baby.
Election to Fellowship in the Academy is considered one of the highest honours for individuals in the Canadian health sciences community and carries with it a covenant to serve the Academy and the future well-being of the health sciences, regardless of the Fellow’s specific discipline.
Recognition as a Fellow “is a reflection of their dedication and excellence in their field,” said Dr. Proton Rahman, chair of the Fellowship committee.
“Becoming a member of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences recognizes Fellows’ dedication to health sciences,” said Dr. Chris Simpson, president, CAHS. “We are proud of their accomplishments, and we are honoured to welcome them to the Canadian Academy of Heath Sciences.”