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In the weeks leading up to the 2014 BRC Research & Poster Day, BRC members discussed current and emerging strengths in its neuroscience community, with the goal of identifying key areas of strategic research focus. Defining these areas provides direction and momentum for multi-disciplinary research groups to make discoveries and lead advances in the understanding, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of brain diseases.

On the BRC research day in December, a representative of each research group shared key developments in the following areas:

Aging: Dr. Kenneth Rockwood, a professor in Dalhousie’s Division of Geriatric Medicine, discussed the efforts he and his colleagues are making to understand the dynamics of aging and the variability of the rates at which different people age and become frail. They have developed mathematical formulas, including the frailty index, to predict how quickly an individual will accumulate deficits – in mobility, heart function, cognition, vision, and all other functions – based on their current frailty score. One of the group’s key findings is that physical exercise provides the strongest protection against physical and cognitive decline.

Epilepsy: Dr. Bernhard Pohlmann-Eden, a clinician and professor in Dalhousie’s departments of Neurology, Pharmacology and Psychology & Neuroscience, discussed new understandings of mechanisms in epilepsy that are emerging from longitudinal studies in patients with first seizures and new-onset epilepsy supported by structural, functional and genetic factors. First seizures, he notes, may often just be the “loudest noise” in a fundamentally altered brain environment, reflected in preceding subtle symptoms such as anxiety and depression. Dr. Alon Friedman, recently recruited to Halifax from Israel to become the William Dennis Chair in Epilepsy Research, introduced his work to understand the nature and role of damage to the blood-brain-barrier in the development of a host of neurological and psychiatric diseases, including epilepsy. His work presents a new opportunity to prevent neurological disease through the early detection and repair of compromised blood vessels in the brain.

Multiple sclerosis: Multiple sclerosis is a long-time research focus at Dalhousie, where the Dalhousie MS Research Unit was established in 1979. Dr. John Fisk, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry, discussed progress in building regional collaborations and developing new researchers through the endMS initiative, shared findings of long-term term population studies (which, for example, show an upward trend and rates in the Maritimes among the highest in the world), and gave an overview of the kinds of clinical trials, imaging studies and basic science research underway in MS in Halifax.

Neurodegenerative disorders: BRC director and medical neuroscience professor Dr. Victor Rafuse described the growing group of researchers at Dalhousie Medical School who are working together to decipher the fundamental circuits of the spinal cord and the mechanisms that lead to neurodegenerative diseases like ALS. From sophisticated mouse models to stem cell engineering and in vitro systems for rapidly analyzing potential treatments for ALS, this group is pooling members’ expertise in a comprehensive approach to neurodegenerative disease. Dr. Sultan Darvesh, a clinician and professor in Dalhousie’s divisions of Neurology and Geriatric Medicine, shared his work to develop a definitive diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease. Not only is he leading the diagnostic arm of Treventis Corporation to commercialize such a test, he is leading the development of a national network of brain banks for the study of Alzheimer and other brain diseases.

Neurodevelopment: Dr. Tara Perrot, a professor in the departments of Psychology & Neuroscience and Medical Neuroscience, discussed the importance of understanding how the nervous system develops. A thorough understanding of pre-natal and early-life nervous-system development and the potential impact of factors in the environment (i.e., stressors, toxins, etc.) is crucial to developing effective methods of preventing and treating nervous-system disorders that may develop as a result. She provided an overview of each neurodevelopment group member’s research, noting that the researchers are in the early stages of developing a collective research vision.

Stroke: Dr. George S. Robertson, a professor jointly appointed in the departments of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at Dalhousie University, explained how local researchers are working together to develop new ways to improve stroke prevention and recovery. He further described how findings from this work will lead to better clinical practices for the prevention and treatment of stroke as well as the rehabilitation of physical and cognitive abilities after a stroke. The stroke group includes a broad cross-section of basic scientists,
neuropsychologists, physiotherapists and neurologists.

Vision: Collaborative vision research has a long history at Dalhousie and its affiliated teaching hospitals. Dr. Bill Baldridge, professor and head of the Department of Medical Neuroscience, discussed the group work underway in the Retina and Optic Nerve Laboratory to understand how the retina functions, how retinal cells die, and how they may be protected. He pointed out that, as the most accessible part of the brain, the retina presents a window into the overall function of the brain. Dr. Balwantray Chauhan completed the presentation with an overview of the outstanding progress in imaging technologies (which he has helped develop) that allow researchers and clinicians to probe the retina in layers only one micron thick, to see extreme details of the vasculature and retinal nerve fibre bundles of the eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday the 13th. © 2017. All rights reserved.. Bridgewater Media Services