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Two brains prove better than one in the inaugural round of the McGill-Western Collaboration Grant program

Published: 22 November 2018

The first round of the McGill-Western Collaboration Grant awards was announced today, showcasing the unique research partnership between Western University’s BrainsCAN and McGill University’s Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives (HBHL) initiative. In the inaugural round, seven research teams, each co-led by a Western and McGill faculty member, have been awarded funding for their transformational research projects that aim to radically transform our understanding of the brain.

"This is an exciting time for neuroscience in Canada as we build a network of inter-linked brain research programs across Canada,” says Alan Evans, HBHL Scientific Director. “With game-changing support from CFREF, the HBHL-BrainsCAN axis is central to that national thrust and places Canada in the vanguard of large-scale brain research."

“The McGill-Western Collaboration Grant program gives Western and McGill neuroscientists the opportunity and incentive to work collaboratively on projects, utilizing the world-class infrastructure and expertise at both institutions,” says Ravi Menon, BrainsCAN Co-Scientific Director. “The understanding of brain disorders is still very much a challenge, so bringing together the vast knowledge of Western and McGill researchers is a fantastic opportunity to help solve the mysteries of neurodegenerative conditions together.”

BrainsCAN and HBHL’s McGill-Western Collaboration Grant program supports impactful brain research. The first award recipient round is funding projects on topics including epilepsy, auditory cognition, Alzheimer’s disease, memory, and consciousness and cognition.

Adrian Owen, a renowned researcher in cognitive neuroscience and imaging at Western, will begin his collaborative project with Stefanie Blain-Moraes, Assistant Professor of Physical and Occupational Therapy at McGill next year. In this new collaboration, Owen and Blain-Moraes will develop a point-of-care system for unresponsive, brain-injured patients in the intensive care unit (ICU).

“Our project is really well suited for the McGill-Western Collaboration Grant as it’s high-risk, it’s novel, it involves expertise from McGill and Western, and collaboration is essential for it to happen at all,” says Owen. “Having a framework that reduces barriers for collaborative research is really important. BrainsCAN and HBHL’s McGill-Western Collaboration Grant program facilitates this framework.”

The goal of Owen and Blain-Moraes’ project is to accurately predict prognosis and long-term outcomes for unresponsive ICU patients. If successful, the results could have a transformative effect on patients suffering from severe brain injuries within Canada and abroad.

“We’d really like to develop prognostic tools that give people more information about what the quality of life [of the patient] is likely to be with survival,” says Owen. “Not only indicators about who is going to survive, but also what they might experience as a survivor.”

Seven BrainsCAN and HBHL McGill-Western Collaboration Grant projects will begin over the next six months utilizing the research expertise at both institutions. The McGill-Western Collaboration Grant program was made possible due to a combined $150 million over 7 years to BrainsCAN and HBHL awarded by The Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF). This fall’s award recipients are the first group of research teams to receive the BrainsCAN and HBHL McGill-Western Collaboration Grant awards.

The collaboration grants were awarded to the following teams of researchers:

  • Mallar Chakravarty (McGill) and Tim Bussey (Western) will use touchscreen technology and high-resolution Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to study the influence of midlife chronic stress, a significant risk factor for Alzheimer disease, on cognitive dysfunction and the underlying changes in brain structure. The data will be available in Western’s new open-access touchscreen behaviour database ( for analysis by researchers around the world.
  • Robert Zatorre (McGill) and Jessica Grahn (Western) will create an auditory-oriented multimodal neuroimaging database, giving researchers access to neural circuitry data to test new hypotheses and serve as a baseline for studies involving disorders of hearing.
  • Neda Ladbon-Bernasconi (McGill) and Ingrid Johnsrude (Western) will use functional-MRI mapping of the brain to identify the location of abnormalities for people with epilepsy.
  • Claudio Cuello (McGill) and Julio Martinez-Trujillo (Western) aim to develop an Alzheimer disease model with the goal of creating a platform, not currently available to researchers, to study cognitive impairment.
  • Sylvain Williams (McGill) and Julio Martinez-Trujillo (Western) will examine hippocampal neurons in memory formation with an aim to understand better how we learn and think, and how this is affected in memory disorders.
  • Mark Brandon (McGill) and Lisa Saksida (Western) will use novel neurotechnologies to examine brain activity during behavioural experiments with the goal of understanding how specific aspects of the brain are involved in memory.
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