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Largest Grant

Feds applaud BrainsCAN potential to lead the world

London - It is important to support and celebrate research and innovation, but at the end of the day, what matters most is the impact research can have, said Peter Fragiskatos, Member of Parliament for London North Centre.

Fragiskatos joined Kate Young, Member of Parliament for London West, at Robarts Research Institute last week, where members of the London and Western communities gathered to celebrate a $66-million Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) grant – the largest research grant in the university’s history – supporting the BrainsCAN: Brain Health For Life initiative.

Already ranked among the best in the world in cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging, Western excels in the breadth of cognitive, computational, clinical, technological and translational approaches required for understanding and intervening in brain function.

BrainsCAN will bring together researchers from across campus under one unifying initiative.

As part of it, Western will partner with researchers at McGill University – who received $88 million for its Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives initiative – to leverage both institutions’ complementary expertise to better understand disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injury and schizophrenia.

“This government is intent on pursuing an innovation agenda, but we know innovation extends beyond mere research findings and the economic contribution that comes from research findings. We know this contribution will position Canada as a global leader in brain research, but more than that, there are 3.6 million Canadians suffering from brain disorders and concussion-related ailments,” Fragiskatos said. “These are our community members and we are to be sure the findings that come from this research will benefit people well beyond Canada’s borders.”

Western is at the forefront of research in the field of cognitive neuroscience, he added, and funding from CFREF will ensure the university is well positioned to move forward and ensure a positive impact for patients worldwide.

Western President Amit Chakma echoed this sentiment, adding honing in on one particular area of research strength will bolster findings and potential impact.

“This (grant) is a big sum. But what is even more important is, for the first time in our long history, we decided as a nation that we are going to focus on key areas, as opposed to spreading the peanut butter thin. This is the first time the Government of Canada decided it’s important to have a few areas where Canada is going to be a global leader, and as part of that, we are proud to be a global leader in the area of brain research,” Chakma noted.

Funding from CFREF is not only a boost for cognitive neuroscience research at Western, it is a bold step in brain research across Canada, added Adrian Owen, BrainsCAN Co-scientific Director and Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at Western’s Brain and Mind Institute.

“In my opinion, this comes at a really critical time for our understanding of the human brain and the challenges we are working hard to address. What I can promise you is, BrainsCAN will radically transform our understanding of the brain over the next seven or so years, and will deliver evidence-based intervention in the classroom, operating room and in the clinic,” he said.

BrainsCAN Co-scientific Director Lisa Saksida added, “We anticipate this funding will allow us to become a top-centre, if not the top centre for cognitive neuroscience in the world.”

“Ten per cent of Canadians suffer from brain disorders and we spend almost $23 billion annually on this problem – we’re going to work on that. But it goes well beyond dollars – this initiative affects people at all points in their lives – babies born with hearing deficits, school-age children struggling to understand mathematical concepts, teenagers suffering from traumatic brain injury and seniors experiencing cognitive decline. This (funding) will lead to better diagnoses and better educational tools.”

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