On June 6th, 2018, Brain Canada held its Annual General Meeting in Toronto. The theme of the event, Science without barriers or borders, reflected our vision of collaboration in science. Our work joins people, labs and platforms across the country, as well as institutions, organizations and sectors – in order to accelerate the pace of discovery and create the conditions to drive innovation. 

The event was attended by more than 60 members of the academic, philanthropic and business communities and featured four speakers who receive funding from Brain Canada, as well as opening remarks from the Chair of Brain Canada’s Board, Dr. Naomi Azrieli, and our President and CEO, Inez Jabalpurwala. A brief description of the presentations is provided below.

The event also marked the launch of Brain Canada’s 20th anniversary year. Over the last 20 years, Brain Canada has granted more than $250 million to 281 projects involving more than 1,000 researchers based at more than 100 hospitals, universities and research institutes across Canada.  We invite you to consult our website and social media channels to stay up-to-date on the celebrations leading up to next year’s Annual General Meeting.

Speakers at Brain Canada’s 2018 AGM. From left to right: Alex Parker, Ph.D.; Kari Hoffman, Ph.D.; Lynn Posluns; and Hendrik Poinar, Ph.D.

Left: Dr. Naomi Azrieli, Brain Canada Board Chair, delivers opening remarks. Right: Inez Jabalpurwala, Brain Canada’s President and CEO, thanks the speakers for their presentations and invites the audience to ask questions.

Kari Hoffman, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Vanderbilt University (formerly Associate Professor at York University), spoke about her Brain Canada team grant that looked at the use of deep brain stimulation as a potential treatment option for epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease, as both these diseases involve impairment to memory circuits. The research was aimed specifically at understanding these memory circuits and determining where and how to apply electrical stimulation to modulate these circuits. She discussed how the project brought together a range of expertise from basic scientists to clinicians and how the project introduced some new interesting research questions and directions such as sex differences in the memory circuits of the brain.

Hendrik Poinar, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Paleogenomics in the Department of Anthropology at McMaster University, discussed the work being done as part of CIFAR’s Humans & the Microbiome program, which is supported by Brain Canada. He discussed the microbiome from an evolutionary standpoint and how disappearing microbiota diversity may be leading to the increased incidence of immune disorders. He also explained the gut-brain connection and how changes in the microbiome are being implicated in everything from autism, ADHD, degenerative brain disorders to jet lag. He finished by elaborating on the collaborations that have resulted from the CIFAR program, between fellows within the Microbiome program and also across other CIFAR programs.

Lynn Posluns, Founder and President of the Women’s Brain Health Initiative (WBHI), highlighted the importance of conducting research on brain aging in women – women represent more than 2/3 of all Alzheimer’s diagnoses – and shared the progress made to date, thanks in part to a partnership between WBHI and Brain Canada. The goal of this partnership is to help translate and communicate the outcomes of brain research by engaging and educating Canadians, especially young women, on the importance of brain health, and in particular of women’s brain health, through the creation in English and French of the Mind over Matter magazine and of digital content, and by supporting the delivery of two six-part series of educational events by the Young Person’s Cabinet, called Engaging Millennial Minds. To date, most of the Engaging Millennial Minds have been sold out, and the latest version of Mind Over Matter magazine was distributed through the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, to doctors’ offices, hospital waiting rooms, care centres, Canadian and US speaking engagements and global symposia and to book and social clubs as requested, for a total of 155,000 copies.

Alex Parker, Associate Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Université de Montréal, explained how C. elegans worms could be used in drug discovery (particularly drugs for ALS), and highlighted the importance of collaboration across labs and disorders in order to accelerate the process. He outlined how his lab is quickly and relatively inexpensively able to screen a large number of potential therapeutic compounds, as well as how suitable compounds are tested in other more complex preclinical models such as zebrafish and mice. From these original thousands of compounds, a few eventually move up to clinical trials in humans.

Photo credit (all photos): Owen Egan