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As the life expectancy of Canadians continues to rise, so do the concerns around medical problems facing the aging population. Neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s take a significant toll on individuals, families, and caregivers while also putting a strain on society.

The Canadian health care system spends billions on brain health and data forecasts that the cost will grow, possibly reaching trillions of dollars. Nonetheless, economic investment in brain health is vital, as just about every citizen will know someone battling a neurodegenerative disease in the near future. Fortunately, faculty at the University of Lethbridge are contributing to brain health research efforts in an innovative and meaningful way.

Groundbreaking neuroscience research in southern Alberta

Dr. Majid Mohajerani, a faculty member at the University of Lethbridge’s Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience (CCBN), is one of the trailblazers behind research identifying the mechanisms at work in Alzheimer’s disease to allow for the advancement of effective treatments. He breaks down his research into three levels: cellular, systems-based, and behavioural. This multi-level methodology allows the CCBN team to practise a holistic approach to its research.

Through pathology studies, Dr. Mohajerani and his team track changes in the brain by looking at its essential biological components. “Our systems-level research allows us to study the brain in real-time, understanding how the processes of the brain are mediated through cells,” he says. Behaviour-based research presents an opportunity to assess learning and memory during disease progression — a topic the institute has studied for decades.

Our institute uses both cutting-edge behavioural and optical neuroimaging techniques that allow us to answer questions previously unable to be answered.

Dr. Majid Mohajerani

New insights into the brain

The institute’s access to progressive technology is one element that sets the CCBN apart from other research hubs around the world. “Our institute uses both cutting-edge behavioural and optical neuroimaging techniques that allow us to answer questions previously unable to be answered,” Dr. Mohajerani explains. Using state-of-the-art imaging technology, he hopes to unearth new insights into how the brain creates cognitive reserves by studying the brain at rest, as well as during encoding and retrieval of information.

Much of this work would not be possible without recent Canadian Institues for Health Research (CIHR) grants awarded to the CCBN totalling nearly $2 million. As Dr. Mohajerani describes, these grants are “not only investments into current [studies], but an investment into the future of Canadian research.” Using projects like his to train future scientists also helps safeguard the preservation and progression of discovery research for years to come.

“The Alzheimer’s crisis is bearing down on us like a tsunami,” Dr. Mohajerani says, “and this is something we need to take seriously.” When it comes to brain health, it’s vital that Canadians support the research being done and advocate for continued investment behind studies in neuroscience. After all, every citizen can only stand to benefit from research the University of Lethbridge and related institutes are bringing forth.”By improving brain health,” he explains, “we not only help Canada continue to progress into the 21st century, but help the population be healthier and happier.”

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