Superstars in cognitive science bring hope, excitement and controversy to Toronto, March 9-11

Toronto, Canada – Scientists at the forefront of understanding aging and dementia, cognitive reserve and brain plasticity, memory, consciousness and emotion, are in Toronto on March 9-11, 2015 for the 25th Annual Rotman Research Institute Conference (RRI) at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 255 Front St. West.

To mark the silver anniversary of the conference, named after the late businessman and philanthropist Joseph Rotman, an all-star lineup of world-renowned researchers from different countries will make presentations over three days – scientists whose groundbreaking work is stirring excitement, hope and controversy.

RRI 25th Conf

“Cognitive science is making great strides in the development of future treatments and interventions that will help people preserve their cognitive powers longer in the lifespan, experience relief from severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and potentially communicate their wishes despite a severe brain injury that has left them in a minimally conscious state,” said conference co-chairs Fergus Craik and Brian Levine, both with the RRI at Baycrest Health Sciences.

Opening the conference on Monday March 9 is one of the world’s leading dementia detectives, Marilyn Albert (Johns Hopkins Medicine, Baltimore).  She will deliver a progress report on the hunt for early-warning behavioural and biological markers that can pinpoint individuals at greatest risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, possibly decades before the onset of symptoms. Such a breakthrough could have profound implications for bringing treatment more rapidly to patients to halt the devastating disease before it takes hold in the brain.

Sandra Black (Sunnybrook Research Institute, Toronto) will present on cutting edge neuroimaging markers that can help identify people at risk for Alzheimer’s. She will also talk about a potential “game-changer” in the battle to stop Alzheimer’s at its root. Global trials, soon to get underway, will test an experimental anti-amyloid drug on people whose amyloid scans show them to be at high risk for developing Alzheimer’s in the next 10 years.

Among the most provocative presenters are Adrian Owen (University of Western Ontario), and Elizabeth Phelps (New York University), both speaking on Wednesday March 11. Dr. Owen will present findings from a novel approach using neuroimaging to detect conscious awareness in seriously brain-injured patients. His research has sparked passionate scientific and ethical debate. Dr. Phelps is among a group of pioneering scientists developing new ways to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction. Her research uses an experimental process known as memory reconsolidation to help PTSD patients re-learn a traumatic memory without the pain or fear association. The effort to change a memory completely forever has galvanized the scientific community and was the subject of a feature article (“Partial Recall”) in The New Yorker in 2014.

Helen Mayberg (Emory University, Atlanta) will present Wednesday on the progress being made with Deep Brain Stimulation as a potential therapy for treatment-resistant depression. A world expert in tracing brain circuits involved in depression, Dr. Mayberg’s lab published results last year that point to a potential new imaging strategy to refine and optimize the original target in the brain for stimulation. This approach may lead to more customized surgical targeting and improved remission responses for a greater number of people who receive the therapy.

Three of the leading thinkers on preserving memory and cognition in older age will speak on Tuesday March 10: Lars Nyberg, Umea University, Sweden; Ian Robertson, Trinity College, Ireland; and Yaakov Stern, Columbia University, New York. These scientists will focus on the relative contribution of lifestyle factors (such as education, exercise, and mentally stimulating leisure activities) versus genetic factors in the maintenance of healthy brain aging, as assessed through cognitive testing and brain imaging.

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Founding director of the RRI and world-renowned frontal lobes expert, Donald Stuss, is a presenter on Monday. Dr. Stuss and the late Joseph Rotman were the driving force behind the creation of the Rotman Research Institute in 1989, which has since evolved into one of the world’s leading cognitive science institutes in the study of aging and the brain.

For the complete three-day itinerary, go to www.baycrest.org/research and click on the RRI 25th anniversary conference ad.  The conference is supported by Siemens Canada, HSBC, and Ontario Brain Institute.

About Baycrest Health Sciences
Headquartered on a 22-acre campus and fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, Baycrest is unique in the world, combining a comprehensive system of care for aging adults and one of the world’s top research institutes in cognitive neuroscience (the Rotman Research Institute). Baycrest’s dedicated centres focus on mitigating the impact of age-related illness and impairment, and offer unmatched global knowledge exchange and commercialization capacity.

Media planning to attend the conference at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre are asked to sign in at the on-site registration desk. To arrange interviews with any of the conference speakers, please contact: Kelly Connelly, Senior Media Officer, Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences, kconnelly@baycrest.org, cell:  416-882-5307.