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August 24, 2016

Three Baycrest researchers were recently awarded nearly $3 million in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Canada’s federal funding agency for health research.

Funding will help scientists better understand the brain’s executive functioning, which determines how the brain processes information, thereby setting the foundation to provide better care for patients.

Foundation Grant

Dr. Jean Chen, scientist at the Rotman Research Institute, was recognized as a health leader by the CIHR with the Foundation Grant for New Investigators. The grant recognizes the leadership, contributions and productivity of individual scientists and provides them long-term support for their innovative and high-impact research studies.

The CIHR grant provides $1,008,631 in funding over five years, which will allow Chen to engage in more clinical collaborations, conduct more imaging studies, share findings, as well as provide support for more research trainees and staff.

Her research focuses on refining resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain mapping, which could assess a patient’s brain health for neuro-degenerative diseases, such as dementia and late-life depression.

Resting-state fMRI brain mapping is done when a participant is not doing any particular task but simply resting, which is more practical for patients and older adults.   Current resting-state scans are difficult to interpret, making it difficult to determine whether someone is developing a neuro-degenerative disease.  

“With a better physiological understanding of healthy and unhealthy brain aging, we will likely be able to advise clinicians and older adults of potential ways to improve brain health and to delay brain degeneration,” says Chen, who proposes that fMRI imaging could be used as a patient-friendly tool for older adults.

Project Grants

CIHR Project Grants are awarded to ideas that offer the greatest potential to advancing health research, healthcare, health systems and health outcomes.

Dr. Deirdre Dawson received $1,191,091 over five years from a CIHR Project Grant for a study on Real-World Strategy Training, an intervention she has developed to promote independence in everyday life for older adults who identify cognitive difficulties, such as reduced memory or concentration. This intervention could help older adults improve and maintain their independence for longer.

Cognition is important to living independently and handling day-to-day tasks, such as managing finances, medication and schedules. Adults who report cognitive difficulties have an elevated risk of experiencing more significant cognitive and functional decline later in life, including dementia.

Dr. Brian Levine and his team received $760,680 over five years from a CIHR Project Grant to study people’s memory abilities and the relationship to cognitive changes in aging. The study will combine brain scanning with assessment of other skills, such as forming mental images, to see how differences in the ability to remember details of events impact age-related memory loss and the effects of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. This research could lead to improved methods of assessment to diagnose memory impairment, as well as the development of new interventions for these changes.

“People differ in their memory abilities, such as the amount of detail recalled when thinking about past events. But no one has examined how these differences relate to memory changes with aging, including changes that may occur in mild cognitive impairment, which often converts to Alzheimer’s disease,” says Levine.

“Although having a good memory may protect one from changes due to neurodegenerative disease, it is also possible that those with congenitally lower memory are already skilled at compensating for lower memory. If this is the case, such individuals may be more resilient to changes.”

Funding will help cover the cost of research operations, such as staffing and brain scanning. Levine’s project is being co-investigated by a number of scientists within the Rotman Research Institute, including Dr. Claude Alain, Dr. Bradley Buchsbaum, Dr. Jean Chen and Dr. Rosanna Olsen.

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 neuro-degenerative diseases to create effective interventions and administer care.

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