February 19, 2020
The Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) has granted Dr. Randy McIntosh, senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI), $600,000 over five years to develop a model that can stimulate changes in the brain that could predict brain health.
“The idea is to look at healthy aging so we can identify the critical features in brain structures and functions that change from young adulthood to middle age and to older age that are predictive of cognitive status,” says Dr. McIntosh, who is also a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.
The model will have two basic utilities: showing how the brain ages healthily, and predicting individuals’ brain health as they get older. “We don’t know how early we can detect dementia risk besides looking at genetic predisposition,” says Dr. McIntosh. “With our Healthy Aging Model, we will be able to track the trajectories that take you from being healthy to having this condition.”
The Healthy Aging Model will be developed using The Virtual Brain
, a unique, open-source modelling platform that captures intricate details of the brain’s structure and function through the collection of imaging data. The platform was built by an international team that includes Dr. McIntosh. Others involved in the creation of The Virtual Brain are Dr. Viktor Jirsa, director of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Marseille, France, and Dr. Petra Ritter, Director of the Brain Simulation Section at Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany. These three brain experts will collaborate on this new project as well. They are also partnering with the Cambridge Centre for Aging and Neuroscience, which has created a large database consisting of brain imaging data from 700 healthy individuals ranging from 18 to 87 years of age.
Previous work by The Virtual Brain has demonstrated that changes in brain complexity relate to aging as well as cognitive status and decline. The infant brain responds to everything almost identically. Then, as the brain learns to differentiate between things, it requires a more complex repertoire of responses, which in turn makes us more cognitively resilient. Says Dr. McIntosh: “In the same way that a soccer player can use different techniques to get the ball from point A to point B, the brain learns to use different networks to support the same cognitive functions. The better your brain does this, the better your brain health will be.”
With the Healthy Aging Model, Dr. McIntosh and his colleagues aim to identify and understand when and how this process changes in healthy aging. The hope is that by using this model, individuals can know whether they are on a healthy trajectory or not, and this can serve as another piece of information for them in maintaining their brain health.
Says Dr. McIntosh, “Through groundbreaking initiatives like this, we can leverage the knowledge we create in the RRI to support real-world applications in the clinic and the community-at-large.”
Baycrest is a global leader in geriatric residential living, healthcare, research, innovation and education, with a special focus on brain health and aging. Baycrest is home to a robust research and innovation network, including one of the world’s top research institutes in cognitive neuroscience, the Rotman Research Institute; the scientific headquarters of the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging, Canada’s largest national dementia research initiative; and the Baycrest-powered Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation, a solution accelerator focused on driving innovation in the aging and brain health sector. Fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, Baycrest provides excellent care for older adults combined with an extensive clinical training program for the next generation of healthcare professionals. Through these initiatives, Baycrest has remained at the forefront of the fight to defeat dementia as our organization works to create a world where every older adult enjoys a life of purpose, inspiration and fulfilment. Founded in 1918 as the Toronto Jewish Old Folks Home, Baycrest continues to embrace the long-standing tradition of all great Jewish healthcare institutions to improve the well-being of people in their local communities and around the globe. For more information please visit: www.baycrest.org
About Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute
Now in its 31st year, the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest is a premier international centre for the study of human brain function. Through generous support from private donors and funding agencies, the institute is helping to illuminate the causes of cognitive decline in seniors, identify promising approaches to treatment and lifestyle practices that will protect brain health longer in the lifespan.
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