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Building the science economy and securing research grants in Canada’s new funding landscape were key topics discussed at BRC Research and Poster Day 2015. Collaboration and cooperation echoed as recurring themes throughout the day—both in terms of success stories and the work that needs to be done to involve business, academia and government in building stronger networks and translating neuroscience discoveries into health care advances and economic growth.

Opening Remarks
Government, university and health authority leaders opened the day by emphasizing the importance of teamwork within the research community, partnership with the broader community, and government commitment to fostering a supportive environment, in realizing the health and economic benefits of neuroscience research and development in Nova Scotia.

Kent Roberts, Managing Director of Sector Development and Entrepreneurship in the Nova Scotia Department of Business, noted the significant role neuroscience developments play in economic growth, while expressing disappointment with Canadian businesses for lagging behind the rest of the world in R&D investment. Dr. Richard Florizone, President of Dalhousie University, emphasized the BRC’s contributions, as a university institute, to building research ecosystems around areas of strength to help achieve the goals of the One Nova Scotia Coalition.  Paula Bond, Vice-President, Integrated Health Services Program Care for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, highlighted notable achievements of several local neuroscience leaders, noting that the teamwork approach they exemplify will serve the community well in the future.

Framing the Challenge
Dr. Vic Rafuse, Director of the BRC, emphasized that today’s basic science research is the critical foundation of tomorrow’s health care advances. A large volume of knowledge must be poured into the R&D “funnel” to render a “drip” in real-world impacts. By forming research clusters and connections with the community, he said the BRC aims to “increase the size of the funnel” and build focus, momentum and support to put researchers’ ideas into action.

Panel—Building the Science Economy in NS/Atlantic Canada
Expert panelists shared their insights on the challenges and possibilities for neuroscience-related economic growth in the region. According to Scott Moffitt from BioNova, we need to do a better job sharing our success stories, to build enthusiasm and support. At the same time, industry needs to invest more in R&D, and the partners in this sector need to develop a stronger system for commercializing neuroscience-based products and services. Rory Francis of PEI BioAlliance emphasized the need to build trust between science and business, along with a clear common vision of the larger system these disciplines share, so they can work more effectively together. He noted that intermediaries—like BRC, BioNova and PEI BioAlliance—can play a crucial role in building these connections, not just within each province but across the entire region. Innovacorp’s Dr. Lidija Marusic pointed to the increasing importance of intangible assets—such as patience, long-term commitment, and entrepreneurial spirit—in helping a region attract outside investment.

Keynote address—Saving the Brain at the Centre for Brain Health
Dr. Brian MacVicar, co-director of the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health in Vancouver, B.C., said that it’s inspirational to see the teamwork and collaboration underway in Halifax’s neuroscience community. He noted that brain health is the leading health concern in the developed world and that what we’re learning about the brain is transforming society.

Dr. MacVicar explained how his centre is organized to facilitate strong basic and clinical research by positioning labs, clinics, hospital, imaging facilities and commercial development spaces in close proximity to each other. A key research area is to learn why and how certain kinds of brain cells die and circuits change, in certain diseases, in order to design novel therapeutics for repairing the damage.

His own research seeks to understand why nerve cells swell to create cytotoxic brain edema (for example, after a stroke). While removing part of the skull may relieve the pressure, these often-aggressive events can be untreatable. He and his team have discovered a chloride channel which they hope to block to stop the uncontrolled cell swelling and death.

Panel—The Future of Research Funding
Via Skype, Dr. Dale Dempsey, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, explained CIHR’s new two-tier research funding scheme. The Foundation Scheme, intended to provide long-term support to research leaders’ programs, awards grants on the basis of the vision and calibre of the leader and the quality of his or her program. The Project Scheme awards grants based on the merit of the project idea—how well it’s articulated and how important it is. Krista Connell, Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation, shared the concern of her agency and every researcher in the room regarding the geographic distribution of CIHR funding, which sees Nova Scotia receiving one per cent of CIHR funding and the rest of the region none. She outlined NSHRF’s Research Enhancement Program, which is designed to help researchers improve the competitiveness of their applications, and other initiatives through which the foundation is helping researchers succeed. Gordon Deveau of NSERC described how his agency connects academic researchers with companies to solve problems with research. To date the programs have been very successful, resulting in commercial success for companies, the hiring of students, and new research collaborations.

Nova Scotia's Minister of Health, the Honourable Leo Glavine, attended in the afternoon, with the express purpose of providing his agreement in principle with the Traumatic Brain Injury Research and Transition/Treatment Centre (TBI-RTC). This was exciting news and a key step forward in creating a business case for this project. Minister Glavine also pointed out the likely synergies between this and the Acquired Brain Injury Strategy his ministry is developing. He echoed the day’s theme by emphasizing the importance of collaboration and coordination in the field of neuroscience.

Collaboration at the BRC—Research Clusters
Over the past year, BRC members have been working hard to develop four distinct research clusters: AMAP (Atlantic Mobility Action Project), Neurodegeneration, Neurodevelopment and TBI-RTC (Traumatic Brain Injury Research and Transition/Treatment Centre. Representatives of each cluster shared developments and directions in each of these vital areas of research.

BRC 2015 Poster Winners
Twenty-three graduate students entered posters describing their research in the day’s poster competition. Drs. David Hopkins, Madjou Bah, Saranyan Pillai and Jeremy Toma evaluated the posters to determine the following winners:

Drew Debay, The Effect of Butyrylcholinesterase on Cerebral Glucose Metabolism in the 5XFAD Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s Disease (supervisor, Dr. Sultan Darvesh)

Lauren Landoni, Locomotor Compensation in Severe Motor Neuron Loss during ALS Disease Progression (supervisor, Dr. Turgay Akay)

Matt Nichols, Flavonoid-induced neuroprotection by synergistic improvements in mitochondrial performance (supervisor, Dr. George Robertson)

 

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