Q&A: Lisa Saksida honoured as a powerful advocate for women in STEM

November 30, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

2020 has been a big year for Lisa Saksida, professor of physiology and pharmacology at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and BrainsCAN co-scientific director. Saksida was elected into the Royal Society of Canada in September; two weeks later, she was named a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences; and today, she has been honoured as one of WXN’s Top 100 — recognizing outstanding women across Canada who advocate for workforce diversity and inspire tomorrow’s leaders.

WXN Top 100: Canada’s Most Powerful Women Awards Program celebrates female leaders who fearlessly push boundaries in their careers, amongst peers and for their communities. It highlights women who are shattering ceilings and who know the possibilities are endless. 

New discoveries pave the way for eating disorder treatments

November 9, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

Anorexia is the mental illness with the highest mortality rate; 10 per cent of those affected will die, according to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre. Unfortunately, there is no pharmacological treatment for this disease. Other forms of eating disorders, such as binge eating, can also result in major implications such as obesity and obesity-related diseases. In order to identify more effective eating disorder treatments, neural mechanisms that control our decision-making process need to be understood.

A team of researchers led by Vania Prado, PhD, and Marco Prado, PhD, BrainsCAN-aligned researchers from Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and Salah El Mestikawy, a researcher at the Douglas Research Centre at McGill University, uncovered a new neural mechanism that may explain how our ability to develop habits can contribute to dysfunctional eating. The research was done along with Western postdoctoral fellows Mathieu Favier, Helena Janickova and Western graduate student Ornela Kljakic.

BrainsCAN joins forces with a world-leading institute in dementia research

October 1, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

BrainsCAN is expanding its international collaboration once again by partnering with the UK Dementia Research Institute Ltd. (UK DRI), well-known as the UK-leader in dementia research efforts. 

The UK DRI, founded in 2017, is the single biggest investment the UK has made in dementia: £290 million thanks to the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Society, and Alzheimer’s Research UK. Over 600 researchers are contributing important work to better understand dementia and the many disorders linked to it. 

Science unites researchers over 10,000 km apart during pandemic

September 28, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

A paper published today in Nature Methods by BrainsCAN-aligned researchers in collaboration with Miao Jing, Yulong Li and other neuroscientists at Peking University embodies how scientists are helping each other in the most atypical year.

The work reports a significant improvement in a methodology to detect acetylcholine – the neurotransmitter that is reduced in dementia – in freely behaving mice. The researchers used a mouse model generated by Western scientists to demonstrate that the new methodology works well to measure the neurotransmitter. The method can help advance our understanding of acetylcholine’s role in dementia and will bring scientists another step closer to developing more accurate treatments.

BrainsCAN takes action to remove barriers with postdoctoral program special call

September 16, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

On June 5, BrainsCAN’s Executive and EDI Committees released a statement on anti-Black racism, indicating our commitment to an equitable and inclusive academic and research environment. Today, we are putting our words into action, by announcing the BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Fellowship Program: Special Call. 

In alignment with the Postdoctoral Program, the special call will attract the world’s most promising and diverse early-career neuroscientists. Led by Fay Harrison, BrainsCAN's Executive Director, it will provide opportunities for underrepresented groups to pursue their research goals in an exceptional neuroscience research environment that will prepare them for impactful careers.

Royal Society celebrates five Western scholars

September 8, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

For many Canadian scholars, being elected into the Royal Society of Canada is a crowning achievement of their careers.

To neuroscientist Lisa Saksida – newly honoured into the into RSC, along with four other Western scholars – it is also a reminder of the teamwork that takes place in any successful research program, and that their collective work has only just started.

“These people inspire me every day, and make it clear to me that, although it may not always be apparent, the real breakthroughs are achieved by diverse and collaborative teams,” she said.

Gaps in medical device industry inspire innovative company

August 6, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

Four and half million Canadians and Americans use a walker to help their mobility, but unfortunately, falls while using one are not uncommon and result in over $330M in health-care costs per year. That's why, when Wagner Souza, recent Medical Innovation Fellow, and his team were asked 'why are you developing a walker when there’s already a well-established industry?’ they would respond 'why do so many people still fall?'.

Souza's experience as a patient with very limited mobility, combined with his expertise as a physiotherapist and a neuroscience PhD, fueled his desire to fill the gaps he sees in medical devices. "I wanted to learn how to bridge clinical setting to medical device industry," said Souza. "In a clinical setting, you have a lot of ideas to solve problems, but you don't have the tools and knowledge to translate the solution into reality."

That's when he discovered Western's Medical Innovation Fellowship Program operated by WORLDiscoveries in partnership with BrainsCAN. 

Nicole Kaniki and Bertha Garcia named special advisors on anti-racism

August 6, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

Dr. Nicole Kaniki and Dr. Bertha Garcia will help Western lay the foundation for a sustained strategy to combat racism on campus.

Effective immediately, Kaniki and Garcia have been appointed special advisors to President Alan Shepard on anti-racism.

These interim appointments are among a series of next steps Western announced on June 22 in response to the report and recommendations of the President’s Anti-Racism Working Group (ARWG).

Kaniki and Garcia, both of whom were members of the ARWG, will hold the roles while Western formally establishes a new senior administrative position dedicated to anti-racism initiatives – a permanent role President Shepard aims to have in place later this year, and one that requires governance approval.

Study confirms new pathway for Alzheimer’s disease degeneration

June 29, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

A Western University study has confirmed a new pathway for Alzheimer’s disease degeneration. Published in the journal Brain, the study supported by Western’s BrainsCAN, demonstrates how a subcortical brain area is impacted by early degeneration that leads to Alzheimer’s disease. 

“Alzheimer’s disease does not affect the brain uniformly, but rather progresses in stages with some areas of brain degeneration preceding degeneration in other areas,” said Sara Fernández-Cabello, first author of the paper and postdoctoral research fellow at the Norwegian Centre for Mental Disorders Research. “Underlying this neurodegenerative cascade presumably is the propagation of abnormal proteins in Alzheimer’s disease.”

Q&A with Alexandra Levine and Blake Butler: Proud to support Pride in research communities

June 29, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

BrainsCAN has emphasized equity and inclusion as a core objective to building a thriving and successful research enterprise. In the midst of a global pandemic, we are made even more aware of the continued inequities that exist, and how the Canadian academy and research spaces need to intentionally ensure that we are providing inclusive spaces for faculty, staff and trainees through a tangible culture of inclusion.

The LGBTQ2S+ community have fought for decades for equality within society that enables freedom of identity and basic human rights, from the Stonewall uprising to equal marriage, yet issues of prejudice and discrimination continue. We are aware of the ways in which microaggressions and exclusive practices perpetuate marginalization of LGBTQ2S+ peoples in research environments. BrainsCAN supports Pride Month and acknowledges the long road ahead we all have in remembering to listen, learn, and act through meaningful allyship with our LGBTQ2S+ community and celebrate in the diversity of our program.

BrainsCAN and Cardiff awarded the Sêr Cymru Strategic Partnership Accelerator Award

June 16, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

Western University’s BrainsCAN and the College for Biomedical and Life Sciences at Cardiff University have been awarded a Strategic Partnership Accelerator award through Sêr Cymru. Announced in March, the award for BrainsCAN and Cardiff’s Transatlantic Exchange for Neuroscience Discovery (TEND) project will foster links between these neuroscience communities.

Building on their memorandum of understanding (MOU) established in 2019, BrainsCAN and Cardiff’s TEND project will enable the further transfer of knowledge and skills between these two world-leading research centres in the fields of neuroscience and mental health. The 18-month, £68,000 project will aim to develop novel therapeutic approaches to treat patients suffering from debilitating illness.

BrainsCAN survey uncovers new insights into the quality of life of dementia care partners

June 10, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

A survey of Alzheimer Society clients in London and the surrounding area has uncovered new insights into the impact dementia has on care partners in the region. One finding revealed that the well-being of care partners declines after caregiving responsibilities become frequent, often occurring at the midpoint of the disease. The survey was conducted by BrainsCAN, a neuroscience research initiative at Western University, the Alzheimer Society London and Middlesex, and the Alzheimer Society of Ontario.

Completed by 457 care partner clients of the six Alzheimer Societies located within the South West Local Health Integration network region, the survey focused on three general stages of dementia care: the early stage of dementia where those living with the disease are capable of independent self-care; the mid-stage where mild to moderate assistance is needed for daily tasks; and the late stage of dementia where full care is required. The most dramatic drop in quality of life for care partners was reported once the person living with dementia moved from being independent to requiring mild to moderate care. 

BrainsCAN statement on acts of racism

June 5, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

The BrainsCAN initiative stands in solidarity with the Black community who are experiencing the hurt and painful reminders of their lived experiences of anti-Black racism through current events. The recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd in the USA brought to light issues that are not unique to American society. In Canada, systemic anti-Black racism exists and reproduces trauma and marginalization of Black people, as seen with the recent deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto, and D’Andre Campbell in Brampton. This is reflective of those seen south of the border.

Historically, universities have been an unwelcoming space for Black students, faculty and staff and the legacies of anti-Black racism are evident today in various types of institutional exclusion and discrimination. BrainsCAN is committed to doing its part in eradicating these existing practices through intentional and intersectional programmatic self-reflection, assessment and changes in policy to encourage, support and empower individuals to overhaul systems that advantage their advancement to the detriment of others.

Amnesia and memory processing: Q&A with Dr. Stefan Köhler

June 4, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

Imagine suffering a traumatic brain injury that erases all memories of your personal past, or your ability to create new memories of your future. These are rare forms of memory loss that can greatly impact those who experience them, and alter their sense of who they are and how they live their lives.

Dr. Stefan Köhler is the Chair of Cognitive, Developmental and Brain Sciences in the Department of Psychology at Western University who studies human memory and its disorders. His research focuses on how the brain forms, stores, and recovers memories. His work has also led him to examine brain injuries or other neurological diseases that can cause amnesia.

When you think of amnesia, you may think of Hollywood movies including 50 First Dates, The Bourne Identity, or Memento. Some of the features of amnesia captured in these movies reflect what scientists have learned about this condition over the past several decades.

Q&A with Dr. Adrian Owen: Understanding consciousness

June 1, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

Consciousness is fundamental to being human. It allows us to understand the world around us. 

In medicine, consciousness is typically tested by asking patients to respond to a command or a question. This simple test determines if someone is aware and responsive. But what happens in rare cases where patients are conscious with no physical ability to communicate and let others know they’re aware? It becomes a matter of life and death.

Dr. Adrian Owen is a Professor in Physiology and Pharmacology in the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, a Principal Investigator in the Brain and Mind Institute and a former Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging who studies disorders of consciousness.

BrainsCAN updates regarding COVID-19

Ongoing, updated May 21, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

Over the last two months, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused on-campus research to be put on hold, resulting in delays for BrainsCAN Accelerator Program projects.

Ensuring the viability of Accelerator projects during this time of physical distancing is essential. Therefore, the BrainsCAN Executive Committee has approved supplementary funding to support active grants and assist grant holders, resulting in interim changes to the BrainsCAN Accelerator Internal Granting Program. 

Postdoctoral Scholars join BrainsCAN Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee

May 12, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

In recent years, the call for increased equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in research has grown. It’s become a priority for the Government of Canada, and more research institutions are implementing strategic EDI best practices to make the research environment more inclusive and equitable.

Even with this focus, barriers still remain for underrepresented groups. Earlier this year, BrainsCAN developed an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee to ensure EDI considerations are embedded within its research practices and culture. This newly-established committee is working with researchers to identify specific areas of concern within the BrainsCAN community and to develop clear action plans to address them.

To increase participation in the EDI Committee, BrainsCAN recently announced two new members. Kasey Van Hedger and Alexandra Levine joined the EDI committee in mid-April as postdoctoral representatives. Van Hedger is a BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Fellow at Western researching substance use and substance use disorders, while Levine is a Western Postdoctoral Associate studying brain plasticity in sensory systems following deafness. They join four other members – Co-Chairs, Lisa Saksida and Paul Gribble, BrainsCAN Executive Director, Fay Harrison and BrainsCAN EDI Specialist, Nicole Kaniki.

BrainsCAN and the Florey combine expertise to tackle brain health

April 27, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

In an effort to better understand the brain, researchers at Western University’s BrainsCAN have teamed up with researchers from The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Australia to work together on fundamental brain research.

A new memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between BrainsCAN and the Florey in March 2020, bringing neuroscientists from both institutions together to collaborate on solutions for maintaining a healthy brain.

BrainsCAN launches EDI survey in response to COVID-19

April 23, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

Over the last two months, the global COVID-19 pandemic has caused uncertainty and disruptions, resulting in difficulties for all. 

Unless deemed essential, most on-campus research projects are currently on hold, making it problematic for those in the research community to collect data. Working from home can also complicate work productivity and meetings, causing even greater challenges for progressing research projects. Additionally, during times of social or economic crisis the inequality gaps widen and marginalized or vulnerable populations experience greater challenges to equity and inclusion for research productivity.

Pandemic forcing food to your emotional rescue

April 15, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

Feeling stressed? Find yourself reaching for the snack drawer or refrigerator?

It’s not uncommon for people to grab a snack when they’re feeling stressed or experiencing anxiety. But with the recent uncertainly caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, people might find themselves reaching for that stress snack more often than not.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge shifts in the way we live, work and socialize,” says Amy Reichelt, a BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Fellow at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry studying the impact of diet on the brain. “Stress is your body’s natural response to situations that threaten your well-being.”

Isolation stress can test those with addictions

April 6, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

Across Canada, people who face addiction and mental health issues are coming to terms with a new reality – an uncertain future with a period of physical distancing to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Over the last month, self-isolation safety measures have cancelled countless in-person Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings, and have suspended face-to-face counselling. Psychologists have moved office meetings to virtual therapy sessions, and some homeless shelters have closed their doors in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“One of the things we might not always acknowledge about this new reality is that it’s tremendously stressful,” says Kasey Van Hedger, a BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Fellow at Western University studying substance use and substance use disorders. “There are two factors contributing to elevating stress levels across the board – one is unpredictability and the other is loss of control. We are all finding ourselves in a situation right now that is highly unpredictable and gives us very little control over our environments and our surroundings.”

Results Announcement: BrainsCAN Accelerator Internal Granting Program

March 26, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

The seventh round of BrainsCAN’s Accelerator Internal Granting Program results have been announced. Six, one-year projects were funded under this round.

*Award agreements have been sent to the following researchers. Note: final awards subject to change based on acceptance of the award agreements.

BrainsCAN notice for the neuroscience community regarding COVID-19

March 19, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

As we continue to monitor the evolving situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, BrainsCAN is taking necessary precautions and aligning with direction from the university. As such, BrainsCAN staff, including BrainsCAN Research Core staff, have transitioned to remote work for the foreseeable future. 

All BrainsCAN staff are still accessible by email and Slack. Zoom is our primary video conferencing tool available for those wishing to book a virtual meeting. Please note that while BrainsCAN staff are working from home, some working hours will change to accommodate childcare responsibilities. These changes are taking place on a case-by-case basis; please connect with the BrainsCAN team member for specific details.

Based on the directive from the provincial government, Western moved to an essential services model on Tuesday, March 24, continuing for 14 days. All buildings are now closed and are not acessible by keycard. 

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at brainscan@uwo.ca.

Using technology to unlock the brain's mysteries

March 16, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

Attempting to solve the brain’s mysteries has been the focus of neuroscientists for centuries. Over the last 25 years, highly specialized equipment has helped researchers examine the brain in more detail than ever before, bringing them one step closer to understanding the most complex structure in the human body.

Western University is home to world-renowned neuroscientists using cutting-edge technology to assist in their mission to crack the brain’s code. In recent years, this technology has helped Western researchers read someone’s thoughts, track the physical changes of a concussion, and understand how a blind woman can see moving objects.

Teen eating habits may contribute to adult obesity: New Western research

March 10, 2020  -  CTV News

LONDON, ONT. -- The familiar expression is ‘you are what you eat,’ but new research out of Western University is putting a twist on that, showing that how you eat as a teen can define who you become.

A review paper released on Monday identifies how poor dietary choices in adolescence can lead to changes in the brain.

The paper has been published in the journal The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health.

Western researchers Cassandra Lowe, J. Bruce Morton and Amy Reichelt found that, as teenagers, people have a dual susceptibility – at an age when they are still developing decision-making capabilities they have limited restraint and heightened reward system - which makes them more prone to eating poorly.

Adolescents prone to poor dietary choices, leading to changes in the brain

March 9, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

A new review paper from Western University has outlined how poor dietary choices in adolescence can lead to changes in the brain. Published March 9 in the journal The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, Western researchers, Cassandra Lowe, J. Bruce Morton and Amy Reichelt highlighted adolescence as a period of dual susceptibility – at an age when teenagers are still developing decision-making capabilities, their limited restraint and heightened reward system make them more prone to eating poorly, which in turn may lead to changes in the brain.

“Adolescents are more prone to eating calorie-dense, high-sugar foods because they lack the control to regulate it,” said first author Cassandra Lowe, a BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Fellow at Western University. “Their brain is still maturing so they’re more sensitive to the rewarding properties of these foods, but at the same time, they lack the control mechanisms to prevent themselves from eating junk foods.”

BrainsCAN expands equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives with new role

March 6, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

BrainsCAN has been pioneering equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives since the development of the original Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) funding proposal in 2016. Inherent in that original proposal was the integration and implementation of EDI considerations throughout BrainsCAN.

To address the recent growing demand for EDI support, Nicole Kaniki joined BrainsCAN in February as the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Specialist. As part of this new role, Nicole will assess the EDI needs within the BrainsCAN community and provide strategic planning, implementation and evaluation of effective EDI initiatives, enhancing the inclusive experiences of marginalized groups. Nicole will also develop resource support and training initiatives to implement equitable and inclusive practices and promote diversity within neuroscience.

International consortium outlines global vision for open-source NHP imaging database

March 6, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

In 2018, an international team of researchers, including Western University neuroscientists, Ravi Menon and Stefan Everling, developed the world’s first open-source database for non-human primate (NHP) brain imaging. Called the PRIMatE Data Exchange (PRIME-DE), it was the first open science resource for the neuroimaging community that aggregated the anatomical, functional and diffusion NHP MRI data sets from laboratories around the world.

In the last year, over 200 NHP data sets have been openly shared in the database, with the goal to increase this to 1,000 data sets over the next five years.

Conference highlights diversity in STEM

February 10, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

“Math and coding were something I really avoided; I had a fear of it.”

Kaitlyn Parks isn’t alone, but as Co-Chair of the Inspiring Diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) conference and a doctoral student in psychology at Western University, she knows the importance of getting women and girls engaged in math, coding and more generally, STEM.

Globally, only 30 per cent of female students select STEM-related fields in higher education – fields like information technology, engineering and computer science. When it comes to academia, less than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women

Supporting care partners and those with dementia in the workplace

January 21, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

Imagine spending your career mastering your craft when suddenly, you begin to struggle with tasks that have always seemed simple. Dementia is a difficult diagnosis, but for those diagnosed while still working, it can be even more complicated.

While the majority of dementia diagnoses take place after someone has retired, there are a number of people diagnosed at an age where they’re still working. According to the Alzheimer Society of Ontario, 16,000 Canadians under the age of 65 are living with young onset dementia. Oftentimes, it’s changes in work performance that signal an issue and lead to a dementia diagnosis.