Children's Health & Safety Association

Issue 43: July 2018

Tuesday, 30 September 2014 20:08

Major Funding for 32 Brain Research Projects in Canada

Written by 

September 12, 2014 – “Disorders, diseases and injuries to the brain can affect anyone, irrespective of age, socioeconomic background or gender”, says Brain Canada.

“One in three Canadians, over 11 million people, will face a psychiatric disease, a neurological disorder or a brain or spinal cord injury at some point in their lives, and while treatments exist, there are currently no cures. From autism to Multiple Sclerosis to Alzheimer’s to concussions, brain disorders pose the greatest health challenge of the 21st Century.”

The Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health, and Inez Jabalpurwala, President and CEO of Brain Canada, announced 32 research projects that will receive $51.4 million in funding over the next three years. The research projects will support the development of innovative technology towards a better understanding of the nervous system’s function and dysfunction, and provide treatment for all types of neurological and mental disorders.

Here is a summary of the child related research projects provided to me by Haifa Staiti, Manager of the Research Programs at Brain Canada in Toronto.

brain-0031) ‘National Bank and Database for Patients with Traumatic Brain Injury’ led by Jamie Hutchison at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto will:

  • help link current and planned Biobank for traumatic brain injury to a central state-of-the-art neuroscience database at the Ontario Brain Institute;
  • optimize molecular diagnostics and enable molecular biomarker research;
  • improve the quality of care and outcomes in patients with traumatic brain injury; and
  • position Canadian scientists to lead groundbreaking neuroscience research as part of the International Initiative for Traumatic Brain Injury Research.

2) ‘The Canadian Neonatal Brain Platform’ led by Gregory Lodygensky at Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Centre in Montreal, together with a unique, multi-disciplinary team of researchers and clinicians across Canada will:

  • identify causes of brain dysmaturation and develop strategies to minimize brain injury in the neonatal period;
  • aim to promote brain-nurturing care using an innovative educational approach to empower parents to enhance their child's development;
  • create a sustainable framework that will generate novel insights with the highest standards; and
  • provide major breakthroughs in neonatal brain research for the benefit of preterm and term born infants at risk.

3) A number of Program Support Grants will provide their expertise for a specific, technical approach or methodology used by a large number of researchers with a focus on children's health:

brain-005CBRAIN: Canadian Brain Research and Informatics Platform

  • Jason Lerch from The Hospital for Sick Children will be researching how the brain changes with learning and experience.

Building the Rick Hansen Alberta Spinal Cord Injury Registry

  • Jaynie Yang from the University of Alberta will be researching how the spinal cord and brainstem control walking in humans by studying very young infants and how best to retrain walking in young children with perinatal stroke.

The Ontario Brain Epigenomics Platform

  • Freda Miller from The Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute will be studying the development and establishment of neural connectivity and in understanding how this is perturbed in pathological situations - in particular, the role stem cells play in the biology of developing and adult nervous systems.

A research platform to study animal and human cellular models of neurological disorders

  • Sheila Singh from the McMaster University will be investigating the regulation of molecular signalling pathways in glioblastoma, brain metastases and childhood medulloblastoma with an ultimate goal of selectively targeting the pathways with appropriately tailored drug and molecular therapies; and
  • Karun Singh from McMaster University will be using neural stem cells to understand risk factors underlying autism and schizophrenia.

Douglas-Bell Canada Brain Bank, an essential platform for brain research in Canada

  • Michael J. Meaney from the Douglas Mental Health University Institute at McGill University will be studying the importance of maternal care in modifying the expression of genes that regulate behavioural and neuroendocrine responses to stress, and the epigenetic regulation of the glucocorticoid receptor in human brain associated with childhood abuse;
  • Michael Kobor, Child & Family Research Institute in Vancouver will be investigating epigenetic variation in humans, with a particular focus on the effects of social environment on lifelong health and aging; and,
  • Cathy Barr from Toronto Western Research Institute will be studying psychiatric and neurological disorders for which a genetic predisposition has been established including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, childhood-onset anxiety disorders, childhood-onset depression and reading disabilities.

Multi-Investigator Research Initiative (MIRI) Grants

1) ‘Adolescent Mental Health’ led by Jean Addington from the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary

brain-007Most mental disorders begin in adolescence; however, there are many gaps in the understanding of mental health in youth. Clinical and policy gaps arise from the inability to predict who will experience mild behavioural disturbances, who will develop an illness, what that illness will be, and what can be done to change its course and prevent deterioration to a Serious Mental Illness (SMI). Many other gaps exist in not understanding how risk factors set off neurobiological changes that determine who will develop a SMI. Their goals are:

  • to be able to identify youth at risk before they develop a SMI so that intervention can begin as soon as possible, and
  • to understand the triggers of SMI.

2) ‘Understanding Stress to Improve Mental Health’ led by Jaideep Bains from the University of Calgary

Based on experimental evidence, it is now axiomatic that ‘stress begets stress’, resulting in cumulative effects that can be harbingers of subsequent illness, including depression and anxiety disorders. In spite of a clear link between stress and mental health, not all individuals exhibit the same susceptibility to stress. While some interindividual differences have a genetic basis, emerging evidence suggests that early life experience plays a pivotal role in dictating who is resilient to stressors and who exhibits vulnerability. Early life experience ‘sets the table’, but not all individuals subjected to stress during critical early periods develop mental health illnesses. Research now suggests that a subsequent exposure to stress – often a different one - may constitute a ‘second hit’ that overcomes normal resilience. This implies that changes imposed by early life stress on brain circuits are embedded, but silent. 

Transgenic animal models combined with optogenetics, electrophysiology, circuit mapping and behaviour will be used to establish causal links between Early Life Stress, and changes in neural circuits that cause behavioural modifications in later life.

3) ‘Targeting the Synaptic Pathway in Neurodevelopmental and Psychiatric Disorders’ led by Ann Marie Craig from the Brain Research Centre at the University of British Columbia

brain-009Autism Spectrum Disorders are Neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by deficits in social interaction, poor communication and restricted, stereotyped patterns of behaviour. Autism and schizophrenia affect over 1% of the population, and each disorder has strong genetic associations with 60-90% heritability among twins.

Recent research identified mutations in a shared genetic pathway in autism and schizophrenia, in genes that function to build synaptic connections between nerve cells, specifically in neurexin cell adhesion proteins and partners linked in a biochemical pathway. There is often an associated imbalance in excitatory/inhibitory synaptic ratio.

Mice with autism-associated mutations in neurexin pathway genes exhibit impaired social interactions and have been developed as single-gene models for exploring and treating autism. It is perhaps not surprising that mutations in these genes that specify properties of synapses, the fundamental units of communication in the brain, predispose to neuropsychiatric disorders. 

brain-011To better understand the subtle differences in brain organization and function that occur in neuropsychiatric disorders the research team will study fundamental properties of the neurexin synaptic pathway in cell culture and animal models of autism using state of the art biochemical, structural, fluorescence imaging, and behavioural examinations in both fly and mouse models based on human genetics. A major component of this research will be to test the efficacy of novel therapeutic agents for amelioration of behavioural and cellular phenotypes associated with the devastating consequences of these disorders. It is their belief that such in-depth molecular studies based on human genetics will ultimately lead to the most effective therapeutics for autism and schizophrenia.

Important Facts

  • Research projects will be based in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Montreal and Quebec City.
  • Following up on commitments made during the Global Dementia Legacy Event held in Ottawa on September 11-12th, three of the projects that explore neurodegeneration will be directed by St. Michael’s Hospital, the University of Manitoba, the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University.
  • In Budget 2011, the Government of Canada made a commitment to provide up to $100 million over six years (2011-2017) to the Brain Canada Foundation to establish the Canada Brain Research Fund, which supports Canadian neuroscience research and advance knowledge, and the treatment of brain disease and mental disorders.
  • Most recently, Budget 2014 announced $15 million per year to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, for the expansion of the Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research, the creation of the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA), and other health research priorities.  With the CCNA initiative, Canada is joining forces with its G7 counterparts to support additional research to find a cure for dementia by 2025.

brain-014“Our Government recognizes the very real impact that neurological and mental health conditions have on Canadian families. Between 2006 and 2013, we have invested more than $861 million in neuroscience research through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR),” said the Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health.

“We are proud to be supporting these innovative new projects devoted to neurological and mental health research that will help to advance our knowledge on neurological and mental health.”

Inez Jabalpurwala, President and CEO of Brain Canada stated, ”The team grants and platforms we are announcing today showcase Canada's important contributions to the global effort to understand the brain and brain diseases. Brain Canada thanks all of the donors and partners on these projects, whose support is being matched by the Government of Canada.”

“This historic investment of over $50 million in Canadian brain research is a testament to the success of the Canada Brain Research Fund (CBRF) public-private partnership,” said Jabalpurwala.

The following projects were selected through the Multi-Investigator Research Initiative and Platform Support Grants - two key programs under the CBRF:

Project name

Implementing Partner

Total Funding

Multi-Investigator Research Initiative*

Adolescent Mental Health

Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary


Understanding stress to improve mental health

University of Calgary


Stimulating Endogenous Regeneration of Photoreceptors as a Potential Cure for Blindness

Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital


Canadian rTMS Treatment and Biomarker Network in Depression (CARTBIND) Trial

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health


Modulating memory circuits: focal DBS treatments to improve medial temporal lobe function

York University


Distinct neuro-immune interactions drive sex differences in chronic pain - the fundamental cellular and molecular signalling pathways for chronic pain in females are different from those in males.

McGill University


The Frontier Trial - Field Randomization of NA-1 Treatment In Early Responders

University of Toronto


Targeting the Synaptic Pathway in Neurodevelopmental and Psychiatric Disorders

Brain Research Centre, University of British Columbia


Neurobiological correlates of TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation)

University of British Columbia


Biomarkers for Crossing the Translational Divide in Acute Spinal Cord Injury

University of British Columbia


Five MIRI (Multi-Investigator Research Initiative) projects focusing on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Details to be released later this fall

British Colombia Alzheimer’s Research Awards




Platform Support Grants

Manitoba Neuroimaging Platform

University of Manitoba


The Canadian Neurophotonics Platform

Université Laval


Le Consortium d'Imagerie en Neurosciences et santé mentale de Québec: leader régional en neuroimagerie humaine

Université Laval


The Experimental Imaging Centre: a Local Brain Canada Platform for Preclinical MR Neuroimaging

University of Calgary


CBRAIN: Canadian Brain Research and Informatics Platform

Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, McGill University


Building the Rick Hansen Alberta Spinal Cord Injury Registry

University of Calgary


A National Biobank and Database for Patients with Traumatic Brain Injury

The Hospital for Sick Children


A Novel Zebrafish-Based Platform for Anticonvulsant Drug Development

University of Calgary


The Canadian Neonatal Brain Platform

Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Centre


The Ontario Brain Epigenomics Platform

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health


Human Inducible Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSC) Platform

Université Laval


Montreal Primate Brain Imaging

Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, McGill University


A Research Platform to Study Animal and Human Cellular Models of Neurological Disorders

McMaster University


Douglas-Bell Canada Brain Bank, an essential platform for brain research in Canada

Centre de Recherché de L’Hôpital Douglas


Integrated Neurostimulation Platform for Neuropsychiatric Research

University of British Columbia


Z-BRAIN: A Zebrafish Drug Screening Platform Targeting Brain Disorders

St. Michael's Hospital


Regeneration Unit in Neurology: A platform for Research and Training in Advanced Microscopy and Behavioural Approaches

Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary







“Brain Canada is the new vision for Canadian brain research - the voice for the brain and the grouping of brain disorders, raising awareness about their prevalence and impact on individuals, families, the economy and society. But most important, through the research we are funding, we are giving hope to the millions of Canadians who are directly or indirectly touched by diseases, disorders, and injuries of the brain, spinal cord and nervous system.” ~excerpt from www.braincanada.ca

Associated Links – courtesy of Health Canada

Canadian Mental Health Association
Brain Injury Association of Canada
Rick Hansen Foundationbrain-018
Canadian Institutes of Health Research
Canada’s Economic Action Plan
Fact Sheet – Thirty-two New Projects Announced through the Canada Brain Research Fund

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