A $5.1 million donation made by the Azrieli Foundation ($3.48 million to Western and $1.62 million to Emory University) is taking an open-science concept to the next level, by enabling researchers across Canada to access and utilize electrodes developed and tested by Andrew Pruszynski at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and Sam Sober at Emory.
The researchers’ goal is to accelerate motor neuroscience research on a national scale, uncovering new findings in neurological conditions that affect the body’s movement, including Parkinson’s disease and ALS, as well as in neurodevelopmental disorders like autism – which impact the body’s motor control, such as reflexes and motor development.
Pruszynski’s “open-hardware” concept is to create a consortium of neuroscientists whose research – whether it is on motor control or motor learning – would benefit from using these electrodes, and in turn gain feedback from the researchers to refine their hardware. “I know the complexity and breadth of the healthcare issues faced by neurodivergent people, and this knowledge guides our commitment and our mission,” said Naomi Azrieli, chair and CEO of the Azrieli Foundation. “This is why I am thrilled that the Foundation has forged this innovative partnership with Western and Emory to break new ground in motor neuroscience.”
Pruszynski’s own research is focused on understanding how the signals from the body, specifically from the skin and muscles, contribute to making accurate, precise movements of the hands and arms. His research helps clinicians understand how the brain learns to perform new motor skills and can help improve therapy for patients trying to relearn their movements after trauma, disease or injury.
For him, having access to this hardware – which was developed in Sober’s laboratory in Atlanta, Georgia – means being able to work with clinicians to help them multiply the type of feedback they get from a patient at one time. This information provides clinicians with more data to analyze, such as a patient’s response to treatment or the progression of disease.
Support from the Foundation will also award multi-year operating grants for select labs studying motor neuroscience and technology development in Canada.
“We are grateful to the Foundation for partnering with Western in order to mobilize neuromotor research initiatives, and narrow the gap between discovery and clinical application,” said Dr. John Yoo, dean of Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.
“We are excited to play a part in a network that has the chance to change the outcome and pave the way to breakthroughs never imagined before.”
Pruszynski is excited about the possibilities. “The Foundation’s support will help seed numerous research activities across the country, enabling scientists to make substantial gains in motor neuroscience,” he said.