I Wish I’d Thought of That
To give insight into the labyrinth of neuroscience research taking place, the Brain@McGill will regularly present features and interviews illustrating some of the many distinctive programs.
Here’s a sampling of the subject matter that lies ahead.
Neuroengineering and Brain Repair
A team of physicists, chemists, material scientists and neuroscientists at the MNI are developing innovative artificial substrates for neuronal growth and synapse formation with the goal of restoring function to the damaged nervous system.
Aiming to find strategies for functional recovery after spinal cord injury, scientists at the MNI and McGill are using the most advanced tools of nano science and materials science to guide axon growth; induce myelination; stimulate synaptic contacts onto material targets; and measure synaptic activity.
The goal is to amplify signals from these new synapses to direct healthy target muscles or a prosthetic limb.
Epigenetics – the MAVAN Study
An ambitious study called the MAVAN (Maternal Adversity Vulnerability and Neurodevelopment) project involves a six-year developmental assessment of children, some of whom have a mother who suffers from severe depression. The research team will measure the levels of stress hormones in these children while looking at what goes on in their brain with the help of brain imaging techniques.
McGill Group for Suicide Studies
The primary objective of the MGSS is to understand what makes people at risk for suicide. To do so, it uses different research strategies based on the investigation of brain tissue, the genome, clinical factors and the social environment.
An important question investigated by the MGSS is how environmental adversity and experiences of abuse can impact brain biology and increase suicide risk.
In medical science today, the most sophisticated pathologies are identified and studied in vivo through the extraordinary power of medical imaging and measuring equipment.
The Brain Imaging Centre at the MNI is considered one of the top three brain imaging establishments in the world. It attracts the finest minds in neuroscience and is a major benefit to almost 65 faculty and associates and 100 students and fellows in the McGill community.
The BIC has a long history of developing novel methods and translating them into routine research and clinical use. It does cost $2.5 million a year to run, proving only that analyzing a living brain is more costly than dissecting a dead one – a boon to patients but a bane to administrators.
Brain and Music
Two internationally renowned groups within the McGill neuroscience community are probing for answers to these and many other questions relating sounds and the brain.
BRAMS (International Laboratory for BRAin, Music and Sound Research) is home to a unique concentration of 25 experts in the neuroscience of music and auditory cognition, led by Robert Zatorre of the MNI and Isabelle Peretz of Université de Montréal.
The Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill is run by Dan Levitin, a record producer who became a cognitive psychologist and is the author of a provocative and bestselling book: “This is Your Brain on Music”.
Long-term studies peering into brain structure and activity are now showing that musical training changes the brain in lasting ways. According to Levitin, playing an instrument calls upon circuitry from many areas of the brain. It involves paying attention, thinking ahead, remembering, coordinating movement and interpreting constant feedback to the ears, fingers and, in some cases, lips.
"It's one of the most complicated tasks that we have," he says.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Howard Chertkow directs an institute unique in Canada, focused on aging and neurodegenerative diseases. Its expertise extends from molecular studies to clinical and imaging studies of AD, population studies, and evaluation of health delivery systems for the elderly.
The centre is a founding member of a major, 10-year study of the epidemiology of dementia in Canada. From this grew the Consortium of Canadian Centres for Clinical Cognitive Research (C5R) which today groups essentially all academic clinical dementia researchers in the country are members,
McGill University has a distinguished history of major contributions to pain research, spanning more than 40 years. Most notably, Ronald Melzack co-authored a seminal paper that led to an explosion of work throughout the world on the mechanisms and treatment of pain.
Today, more than 150 scientists from several Departments of the Faculties of Medicine, Dentistry and Science of McGill University -- as well as associated members from other Quebec institutions and Universities – are members of the Alan Edwards Pain Research Centre under director Fernando Cervero.
The centre is among world leaders in the study of the mechanisms of pain, the management of pain and the relief of pain, one of the largest causes of suffering and disability throughout the world.
The CRLMB integrates the research of its investigators across four research themes: Language Acquisition, Neural Bases of Language, Speech Science Modeling, and Visual Language Process.