Senior in fMRI

Canadian Institutes of Health Research invests in new brain health research at Baycrest

Drs. Tomas Paus and Bradley Buchsbaum

(L-R: Drs. Tomáš Paus, RRI senior scientist and the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Chair and Professor of Population Neuroscience at the University of Toronto, and Bradley Buchsbaum, RRI scientist)

Baycrest will pursue new avenues in brain health research thanks to support from Canada’s health research investment agency.

Two of Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI) scientists secured more than $1.5 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) during the recent Project Grant competition. Funds are awarded to studies offering the greatest potential to advance health research, healthcare, health systems and health outcomes.

This funding supports Baycrest scientists whose work focuses on understanding how the brain’s ability to process information changes during aging, which will help detect neurodegenerative diseases earlier and create targeted treatments.

Cannabis and the brain’s development

Dr. Tomáš Paus, RRI senior scientist and the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Chair and Professor of Population Neuroscience at the University of Toronto, was awarded more than $1.2 million over five years to explore how the brain development, mental health and cognitive abilities of young adults may be affected by cannabis use during youth.

In 2015, the study’s first phase found that cannabis use may influence the brain development of male teens who have a high genetic risk for schizophrenia. In collaboration with researchers at SickKids Hospital, CAMH, the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, McGill University and the University of Calgary, researchers will launch the next phase by comparing the brain scans of 1,000 young adults who previously participated as teens.

“As the Canadian government moves towards legalizing cannabis, our study will inform the public about whether early cannabis use changes the trajectory of a person’s brain health between their teens and young adulthood,” says Dr. Paus, a pioneer in the field of population neuroscience and professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

Funding from the CIHR will support the salaries of research staff, participants and the cost of brain scans. Additional funding could help researchers incorporate a smartphone app into the study and provide detailed, real-time insight into the behaviour of research participants.

Improving memory assessments

Dr. Bradley Buchsbaum, RRI scientist and psychology professor at the University of Toronto, will receive more than $315,000 over three years for his work that could help develop targeted treatments for incurable neurodegenerative diseases.

By using high-resolution neuroimaging, Dr. Buchsbaum hopes to discover a unique brain signature when young adults remember a detailed memory and compare how this changes in older adults. This detailed memory recall becomes more difficult during aging and this work could be used to flag cognitive impairments earlier and measure the effectiveness of drug therapies and interventions.

“We’re shining a light on how the brain is working in real time, which could help diagnose how well a person’s memory system is functioning, even if they don’t notice any memory changes as they grow older,” says Dr. Buchsbaum.

His work takes a uniquely broad approach in studying the brain’s communication between its different regions.

Additional funding towards Dr. Buchsbaum’s research could support the development of a neuroimaging-based assessment to diagnose memory problems in older adults earlier.

CIHR funding and support from other granting bodies are some of the ways Baycrest scientists receive the opportunity to conduct their ongoing studies. Financial support from both corporate and community donors also play a critical role in improving our understanding of neurodegenerative disorders to create effective interventions and administer care. Donate online or call the donations line at 416-785-2875 to support our scientists’ research.