Dr. Katalin Toth
President, Canadian Association for Neuroscience, & Professor, Université Laval
Neurological disorders — disorders that affect the brain and nerves — are the leading cause of disability and the second leading cause of death worldwide. The burden of neurological disorders has substantially increased over the last 25 years with the aging of the population. Brain research offers our best chance to reduce this burden and to improve the quality of life of Canadians.
Understanding how the brain, our most complex organ, works and how it’s affected by disease and injury is one of the biggest challenges we face today. Brain researchers in Canada, together with patient partners and health care professionals, are striving toward this goal. The hundreds of different diseases, conditions, and injuries that can affect the brain have made it difficult for scientists to find cures and ways to prevent brain disorders in the past.
In just the last few months, Canadian researchers have identified new potential targets to treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, pediatric brain tumours, and chronic pain
A new age for brain research
Thanks to years of fundamental research, today’s researchers now have tools that allow them to finally tease out the role of individual neurons, to modify signals sent between these neurons, and to study the roles of genes in brain health and disease. These tools have revealed that defects in common mechanisms can lead to many different diseases. This new understanding has led to the identification of important therapeutic targets.
Canada’s contribution to this body of work is very important. In just the last few months, Canadian researchers have identified new potential targets to treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, pediatric brain tumours, and chronic pain (view recent news stories on CAN-ACN). These discoveries stem from years of research to understand the basic science of how the brain works. This work is made possible by the expertise of highly-qualified personnel who are trained in Canadian laboratories.
The Canadian government needs to further support health researchers to build on these strengths and allow new discoveries to be made.
Canadian neuroscientists depend on funding provided by the Canadian government. This funding is currently insufficient, as only about 15 percent of applications for new scientific projects are successful in securing operating funds from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). This low success rate not only makes scientific development at an internationally competitive level impossible, it also erodes decades of previous investments in scientific research. Some of our best and brightest ideas, which could produce new medicines in the future, will never take shape.
Canadian neuroscientists will be travelling to Parliament Hill soon to ask that increased and stable funding for basic research in Canada be provided through the three main funding agencies of Canada, including the CIHR.
Your brain is what makes you who you are. Every thought, idea, and emotion you have depends on this fragile organ. Investing in brain research and brain health today is an investment in Canada’s health and prosperity now and for the future.