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New Government of Canada funding supports brain health research at U of T Medicine

Mr. Chagnon of the Chagnon Foundation, Dr. Naomi Azrieli, U of T's Dr. Benoit Mulsant, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and McGill’s Dr. Nahun Sonenberg prior to the announcement by Brain Canada (photo courtesy CAMH)

University of Toronto researchers will benefit from new federal funding announced last week. The Canada Brain Research Fund will support several new research projects in the areas of Alzheimer’s disease prevention and autism.

“Brain health and neurosciences are research priorities for the Faculty of Medicine and our partners,” said U of T Faculty of Medicine Dean Catharine Whiteside. “Our researchers are solving mysteries of the brain to help reduce the global burden of neurodegenerative and mental health disorders. The new federal funding will help our researchers advance our understanding of brain disorders and expand human potential.”

One of the announced U of T projects will apply recent advances in brain science to the clinical treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Professor Benoit H. Mulsant of the Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Physician-in-Chief at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is the lead investigator of the study. The study, called PACt-MD – Preventing Alzheimer’s dementia with Cognitive remediation plus tDCS in MCI and Depression – would prevent brain damage associated with Alzheimer’s by stimulating neurons in the brain and strengthening cognitive skills.

Professor Evdokia Anagnostou of the Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Paediatrics and the Holland Bloorview's Autism Research Centre and Professor Jason Lerch of the Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Medical Biophysics and the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) are also grant recipients. Their groundbreaking autism research will introduce the use of co-clinical trials to the world of neurodevelopmental research. Proven successful in the development of cancer therapeutics, co-clinical trials may help investigators isolate some of the individual causes of autism.

The CAMH research project will receive almost $10 million over five years: the largest-yet grant for Alzheimer’s disease prevention in Canada. The Holland Bloorview and SickKids’s autism research project will receive $2.5 million.

Brain diseases, disorders and injuries are one of the leading causes of disability in Canada. They are costly to patients, families, caregivers, communities and the health care system. The new research projects would find ways to decrease the strain of these diseases and disorders for both affected individuals and society at large.

The federal government’s Canada Brain Research Fund, with contributions from Brain Canada, the Azrieli Neurodevelopmental Research Program and the Chagnon family, will also support Alzheimer’s disease prevention and autism research projects across several other Canadian universities.

Vitaly Kazakov is a writer with the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto.