April 11, 2021 | ITN Communications
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, these projects will translate groundbreaking scientific research to benefit patients in the real-world.
While research can take years for patients to see results, these two collaborative neuroscience projects will result in economic and societal impact for Canadians in the next two or three years. 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.
Established as part of the newly developed McGill-Western Initiative for Translational Neuroscience (ITN), these projects are supported by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) through Western’s BrainsCAN and McGill’s Healthy Brains, Healthy Lives (HBHL) initiatives.
As HBHL’s Scientific Director Dr. Alan Evans explained, this collaboration will deliver results unachievable by either institution alone by combining Western’s advances in cognitive neuroscience with McGill’s expertise in computational modelling. “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 Dr. 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.”
Dr. 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 these 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 Dr. 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 for those suffering from brain conditions.
“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 Dr. Saksida. “These projects have the support, expertise and world-class facilities that will make this possible.”
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. Dr. Saksida explained that this approach helps to ensure that 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 Dr. 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 Dr. 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 Dr. 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.”
The McGill-Western Initiative for Translational Neuroscience (ITN) is a collaborative research initiative supporting two large-scale research projects to impact the lives of those living with neurodegenerative conditions. Supported by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) through Western’s BrainsCAN and McGill’s Healthy Brains, Healthy Lives initiatives, the ITN brings world-renowned neuroscientists from McGill and Western together to focus on neurodegenerative research projects.