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Innovative Brain Research Breaks Disciplinary Barriers

Members of the Canadian Open Neuroscience Platform at the inaugural plenary meeting.
Members of the Canadian Open Neuroscience Platform at the inaugural plenary meeting.
Members of the Canadian Open Neuroscience Platform at the inaugural plenary meeting.

There are currently more than 564,000 Canadians living with dementia and according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, this number is expected to increase to 937,000 within the next 15 years. Given the enormous social and economic burden of this disease and the fact that no new treatments have been developed in nearly two decades, it’s imperative to accelerate research in this area.

Only the beginning

Alzheimer’s is one of more than 1,000 diseases, disorders, and injuries of the brain — many of which share common underlying mechanisms. Canadian researchers are among the world leaders in the quest to understand the brain and brain disorders, but we have much more to do to develop novel and earlier diagnostic tools, effective treatments, and, one day, cures.

Brain research is no longer just about neuroscience — it now includes engineering, computer science, chemistry, physics, and ethics.

Brain research is no longer just about neuroscience — it now includes engineering, computer science, chemistry, physics, and ethics. By collaborating across these different fields, researchers can exchange methods, hypotheses, and techniques, enabling them to generate new thinking and new perspectives. Brain Canada has long believed in the success of this approach and has made funding multidisciplinary team science the cornerstone of their granting programs.

Open science

Recently, collaboration has become easier thanks to the development of data sharing platforms and a movement to make biomedical research and data freely accessible. Called open science, this method facilitates partnership from investigators across the country with the potential to link globally.

The Canadian Open Neuroscience Platform (CONP), initiated by Brain Canada and funded in part by the Canada Brain Research Fund, was announced in February 2018.  Involving more than 15 different universities, the CONP aims to bring together leading Canadian scientists in the basic and clinical neuroscience fields to form an interactive network of collaborations in brain research.

This platform will improve the accessibility and re-usability of neuroscience data and, by increasing awareness of ongoing and past research efforts, it will reduce unnecessary duplication and overlap, resulting in a more efficient use of funding support. The CONP will also engage young investigators across the country in order to develop the next generation of “open” scientists.

More voices, more solutions

The CONP seeks a broad understanding of how the brain functions in health, bringing together scientists who use different kinds of data and have different areas of expertise,  enabling them to easily distribute their analyses. As a result, the platform carries tremendous potential for research breakthroughs that will improve the health outcomes of patients living with brain disorders.

The Tanenbaum Open Science Institute (TOSI) was established at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital in December 2016 with a transformative $20 million donation by the Lawrence and Judith Tanenbaum Family Foundation.  The TOSI Open Drug Discovery Platform brings therapeutic interventions to the clinic faster than what has been possible to date. By collaborating with the platform, CONP will enable the sharing of early-stage drug development findings across different brain disorders.

With governments, funders, researchers, and others in the brain research space working together, we can accelerate the pace of discovery and improve the quality of life for Canadians affected by  brain disorders, and the millions more who are touched by them.

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