Two Western brain research projects receive over $2.5M in grants

(From left) Prof. Lisa Saksida from Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry; Donna Kotsopoulos, dean of education at Western; Prof. Emma Duerden of the Faculty of Education; Viviane Poupon, president and CEO of Brain Canada with North London Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos at the announcement of the grants at Western on May 24. (Christopher Kindratsky/Western Communications)

A pair of Western University research projects working on cognition and brain repair-related studies, are among four recipients receiving funding from Health Canada and Brain Canada.

On Wednesday, the grants, awarded through the Canada Brain Research Fund (CBRF), were presented at an event at Western by London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos and President and CEO of Brain Canada Viviane Poupon.

A total of four research projects across the country were awarded funding. The two Western University projects include research on fast-tracking drug development for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and another on a brain monitoring technique to study the brain at a patient’s bedside.

The first project, led by neuroscientists Lisa Saksida and Tim Bussey at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, is set to receive a total of $1.46-million to support a “state-of-the-art” Mouse Translation Research Accelerator Platform. It uses a touchscreen-based, open-source software system to evaluate advanced cognitive functions, such as memory in mouse models. The project is a critical component of the drug development and testing process for neurodegenerative diseases.

Researchers on the Schulich project said they will use the new funding to test different aspects of its open approach to see where it works and where it does not.

The second project, led by Emma Duerden, a professor in the Faculty of Education and Canada Research Chair in neuroscience and learning disorders, is receiving $1.3-million for a project is called SPRINT: fnirS Platform foR braIn moNiToring, analytics and data repository.

Duerden and her team’s research is centred on functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), a non-invasive, optical brain monitoring technique that measures blood flow changes in the brain. It works by having patients wear a specialized cap equipped with near-infrared light sources that show regions of the brain that may have been injured.

The SPRINT team is partnering with Lawson Health Research Institute to explore how the research can be applied to six different population groups at local hospitals, including Parkwood Institute at St. Joseph’s Health Care, and Children’s Hospital and University Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC).

For example, babies in the neonatal intensive care unit who require brain imaging are not good candidates for traditional brain imaging methods such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The fNIRS technology was started to make it easier to study the brain and brain repair at the bedside.

The other two projects, one based out of Douglas Hospital Research Centre led by Sylvia Villeneuve in Verdun, Quebec and the other by Dr. Signe Bray out of the University of Calgary, were also awarded grants for brain research on Wednesday.

“Better research means better brain health for all. The work of Dr. Duerden, Dr. Saksida, Dr. Villeneuve and Dr. Bray will play an important role in advancing our knowledge of the brain and, ultimately, enhancing Canada’s capacity in neuroscience research,” said MP Fragiskatos.

All four projects are supported by Health Canada and are matched by funding from Brain Canada’s sponsors, donors and partners.