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May 15, 2017

Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI) scientist Dr. Jean Chen has been recognized as an exceptional emerging Canadian researcher in the field of neuroscience.

Dr. Chen was announced as Canada Research Chair in Neuroimaging of Aging for a five-year term by Canadian Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan earlier this month. The chair position recognizes researchers who are acknowledged by peers as a potential leader in their field.

Dr. Chen’s work strives to alert doctors earlier of a person’s risk of developing certain brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, mini-strokes (transient-ischemic attacks) and stroke. Her unique brain imaging technique could also help measure how various treatments and therapies could impact the brain. Once scientists can do that, they can focus on the treatments and therapies that benefit patients the most.

This is not the first time Dr. Chen’s scientific contributions have been recognized. In 2016, she received a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Foundation Grant, a grant that recognizes the leadership, contributions and productivity of scientists.

In 2011, Dr. Chen became the first scientist to use magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the link between blood flow decline and brain shrinkage during aging. Scientists have demonstrated that blood flow to the brain declines with age, and autopsies have shown that vascular disease (disorders with abnormal blood circulation) are present in more than 90 per cent of patients with dementia. Her distinct approach aims to measure blood-vessel stiffness, which impacts blood flow, in the brains of older adults.

“The good news is that there are ways to improve blood flow through everyday activities, such as exercise and healthy eating,” says Dr. Chen. “With our work, we could provide a brain health measurement for doctors to help them decide whether a patient should start preventative interventions before the disease develops.”

Dr. Chen is in the process of patenting her resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain imaging technique for blood-vessel mapping, which has attracted interest from leading clinical researchers in Canada who are using it to study patients with mild-cognitive impairment (a condition that is likely to develop into Alzheimer’s), traumatic brain injury and late-life depression. With it, Dr. Chen strives to expand the role of brain imaging in the clinical sphere and improve the ability to run fMRI tests on older adults who are unable to tolerate traditional testing methods.

“Baycrest is proud to support a promising leader in cognitive neuroscience, and many like her, who are exploring ways to prevent and stop dementia’s progression,” says Baycrest President and CEO Dr. William Reichman. “Our scientists will help slow down and even stop this public health crisis and allow adults around the world to enjoy healthy aging.”

Created in 2000, the Canada Research Chairs Program aims to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds. Canada Research Chairs strive to deepen the current knowledge base, enhance quality of life and grow the economy.

“Jean’s work is an excellent example of how Baycrest scientists are raising the bar in designing targeted care solutions based on fundamental discoveries of how neurodegenerative diseases impact the brain,” says Dr. Randy McIntosh, Baycrest’s Vice-President of Research and Director of the RRI. “This Canada Research Chair is a well-deserved appointment that recognizes her achievements thus far and supports taking her research to the next level.”   

Dr. Chen’s technique could contribute an important piece to understanding and treating brain disorders. Donate online or call the donations line at 416-785-2875 to support our scientists’ research.

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