Recent News

BrainsCAN Year Five Highlights

September 23, 2021  -  BrainsCAN Communications

Five years ago, BrainsCAN received funding from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) to support high-impact/high-reward research with the goal to transform the way brain diseases and disorders are understood, diagnosed and treated. Since that time, we’ve brought together researchers from all levels of the nervous system to accelerate important brain discoveries.

This past year, we added a special call to our Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, launched an undergraduate internship program, granted more internal funding awards, and developed new international research collaborations.

Unlocking dementia: Finding memories through music

September 21, 2021  -  BrainsCAN Communications

It’s a warm summer evening. You’re driving in your car when a song comes on that suddenly reminds you of an experience you had many years ago. You remember the experience so well it transports you back in time.

Over our lifetime, we collect countless memories from all aspects of our lives, but are only ever aware of a handful of memories at a time. Many things can trigger a memory, but it’s often music that evokes memories and induces a sense of nostalgia – it can even do this for someone with dementia.

BrainsCAN Summer Internship Program brings neuroscience research to life for Western undergraduates

September 16, 2021  -  BrainsCAN Communications

Ashini Peiris was a third year undergraduate student looking to continue her neuroscience research over the summer when she received an email introducing the BrainsCAN Diversity in Neuroscience Summer Internship program.

“Diversity in neuroscience – that’s me!” Peiris recalled thinking. “The program was designed for someone like me, someone in a minority. I was just so proud that Western was doing this.”

Peiris was one of seven undergraduate students awarded a Diversity in Neuroscience Summer Internship. The program provides Western University undergraduate students who self-identify as Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ2S+, with a disability, or as a woman, an opportunity to have an immersive experience in a cognitive neuroscience research environment. The goal is to give those in marginalized groups the research skills needed to excel in academia and beyond.

Q&A: The risks of cannabis use during pregnancy

June 30, 2021  -  BrainsCAN Communications

We know that alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix. Those who are expecting are told to steer clear of raw fish, unpasteurized dairy, and certain medications. But what about cannabis?

The answers aren’t as clear because the recreational use of cannabis became legal in Canada less than three years ago. It is a relatively new area of research now that there’s less regulation, but the number of studies surrounding the drug has skyrocketed.

Mina Nashed, BrainsCAN postdoctoral fellow, published a review paper in Frontiers of Psychiatry earlier this year titled Prenatal Cannabinoid Exposure: Emerging Evidence of Physiological and Neuropsychiatric Abnormalities to explore what the science says to date.

Jody Culham named Canada Research Chair for innovative immersive neuroscience methods

June 15, 2021  -  BrainsCAN Communications

One year after earning a New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) Exploration grant, Jody Culham, Professor in the Department of Psychology and member of the BrainsCAN Human Cognitive and Sensorimotor Research and Innovation Core (HCS RIC), has been named a Canada Research Chair in Immersive Neuroscience.

She describes immersive neuroscience, a term she coined, as a complement to traditional, reductionist neuroscience that uses approaches to study behaviour and brain function in the natural world.

“Immersive neuroscience is moving brain research closer to the real world,” explained Culham, “Of course, the gold standard is the real world itself, but modern technologies can offer compelling simulations. Think virtual reality, augmented reality and video games.”

BrainsCAN's statement on the tragic killing of Daunte Wright

April 15, 2021  -  BrainsCAN Communications

BrainsCAN stands in solidarity with the Black community, who continue to experience painful reminders of social injustice. The recent murder of Daunte Wright in Minneapolis reflects the continued anti-Black racism that has afflicted our society and has a profound impact on the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of the Black community. We must acknowledge, check-in, and support our Black scholars, trainees, and staff during these times.

We condemn any form of prejudice, stigmatization or racism.

We reaffirm our commitment to ensuring the research environment we provide is equitable and inclusive. We accept our responsibility to challenge and overhaul systems which continue to devalue or discriminate against individuals on the basis of racial identity or Indigeneity. As an initiative we maintain accountability to self-reflection, program reform and meaningful action to combat systemic racism.

Neuroscientists show planning ahead is key for controlling movement on and off the court

March 31, 2021  -  Western News

When Fred VanVleet brings the basketball up the court, the Toronto Raptors guard needs to read the defence and decide his next move while still controlling a continuous flow of movements to keep his dribble alive.

Depending on the actions of his teammates, and the opposing defenders, ‘Steady’ Freddy may have to change plans of action very quickly. And as any Raptors fan knows, he can.

A new study from Western University, supported by BrainsCAN, suggests that this sort of dual-task ability (planning ahead while controlling ongoing movement) is a fundamental aspect of complex skilled behaviours, like playing basketball. And, more importantly, this ability can be improved with practice.

Results Announcement: BrainsCAN Accelerator Internal Granting Program

March 12, 2021  -  BrainsCAN Communications

The eighth round of BrainsCAN’s Accelerator Internal Granting Program results have been announced. Two, two-year projects were funded under this round.

For more information about the Accelerator Internal Granting Program, please visit

For more information about past Accelerator results, please see:

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.