Two of the world’s most accomplished neuroscience research initiatives at McGill and Western University have combined their expertise to take on two large-scale brain research projects.
Focusing on biotherapeutics and Parkinson’s disease, the new McGill-Western Initiative for Translational Neuroscience (ITN) will translate groundbreaking scientific research to benefit patients in the real-world.
“Brain disorders are increasing rapidly, especially as Canada’s population ages, so it’s critical that we move brain research from the lab to the real world as quickly as we can,” said Lisa Saksida, scientific co-director for BrainsCAN. “These projects have the support, expertise and world-class facilities that will make this possible.”
While research can take years for patients to see results, this collaborative neuroscience initiative is expected to have economic and societal impact for Canadians over the short term.
One project is developing a better method to test and evaluate drugs for brain diseases and disorders, while the other is identifying a faster and more efficient method to diagnose Parkinson’s.
These two projects, established as part of the new McGill-Western ITN, are supported by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) through Western’s BrainsCAN and McGill’s Healthy Brains, Healthy Lives (HBHL) initiatives.
This collaboration will deliver results by combining Western’s advances in cognitive neuroscience with McGill’s expertise in computational modelling, said Alan Evans, scientific director of HBHL.
“HBHL and BrainsCAN bring complementary strengths to brain research and the ITN was conceived to combine those strengths into something that is greater than the sum of the parts,” said Evans. “Together, ITN researchers from both groups will use advanced, big data analytics to understand the deeper mechanisms of normal brain function and brain disorders.”
Ravi Menon, scientific co-director for BrainsCAN, added that the projects are an evolution of work that the two initiatives have been already exploring in the last two areas.
“The goal of the ITN is to harness developments that have occurred because of CFREF support to BrainsCAN and HBHL over the last five years,” said Menon. “These projects will have major economic impacts that benefit Canadian society.”
Leveraging expertise from researchers at both institutions, the projects will be led by multidisciplinary teams from Western and McGill. The goal is to use this existing knowledge to generate impact over the next two to three years to improve the quality of life of those suffering from brain conditions.
In addition to helping those with brain disorders, these projects will use open science tools, which will make the data accessible to a global community of researchers and clinicians. Saksida explained this approach helps to ensure the methods and findings can be more easily used to help patients around the world.
“A key component of the ITN is ensuring all data is openly and freely available to the research community as well as to the wider community,” said Saksida. “We want to ensure that if discoveries occur, other researchers can access that information quickly and efficiently. Sharing knowledge is necessary for producing high-quality brain research and advancing innovation.”
While each project has a specific focus, the findings in any of these areas will help researchers better understand the intricacies of the brain, something that Evans explained leads to advances that will benefit those suffering from a brain condition.
“We will not achieve fundamental breakthroughs in curing brain disease unless we understand the basic mechanisms, pathways and circuits that underlie normal brain function and how those mechanisms fail in brain disorders,” said Evans. “The ITN will create concrete pathways for ensuring that these important findings are translated into solutions that will benefit patients sooner rather than later.”