$10.6M grant supports innovative autism project

Published: 8 April 2024

McGill Translational Platform in Autism Research will help uncover the disorders’ neural foundations


A new project at The Neuro, McGill University and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) has been awarded $10.6M in financial support as part of the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) Innovation Fund.

The McGill Translational Platform in Autism Research (MTPAR) will harness cutting-edge technologies to uncover the neurobiological mechanisms behind autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), which affect social interaction and patterns of behaviors and interests in about one in 66 Canadians and one-to-two per cent of children globally.

The Government of Quebec and partners provide additional funding, bringing the total research infrastructure investment to $27.1 million.

Using genetics, neurophysiological measurements, and neuroimaging to uncover autism mechanisms

Despite the prevalence of ASDs, the neural processes through which ASDs influence the developing brain remain unclear. The CFI funds will support the acquisition of transformative infrastructure for deciphering the neurobiological mechanisms underlying ASDs. The support from CFI will enable the creation and analysis of advanced genetic models of ASD through the acquisition of Canada’s first integrated preclinical imaging system comprising a 9.4T magnetic resonance imaging scanner and a micro-positron emission tomography insert.

Non-invasive stimulation and recording devices will also be developed to measure human behavior and cognition in an effort to integrate studies and results from both humans and genetic models. This highly translational and interdisciplinary approach is anticipated to improve our understanding of neural circuits, brain connectivity, and behavior/cognitive changes associated with ASD.

“This project will position McGill and Quebec as leaders in autism research and will give us the capacity to train the next generation of scientists in mastering innovative new techniques,” says MTPAR co-lead Dr. Guy Rouleau, director of The Neuro. “Combining the new MRI/PET system with the human scanning infrastructure already in place at The Neuro will create an autism research environment unique in the world.”

“Resolving the brain mechanisms involved in ASD is an area of medicine in which large gains can be achieved on a global scale,” says MTPAR’s co-lead Keith Murai, professor in McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and researcher at the RI-MUHC. “This CFI support will enable the creation of a unique resource to generate discoveries through imaging and neurophysiological analyses in genetic models of ASD and humans.”

“Thanks to CFI funding, members of MTPAR will soon be in a unique position in Canada to make major breakthroughs in our understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying ASDs,” says Julien Doyon, director of The Neuro’s McConnell Brain Imaging Centre.    

About the Innovation Fund

The CFI’s Innovation Fund provides continued investments in infrastructure, across the full spectrum of research, from the most fundamental to applied through to technology development. Projects funded through the Innovation Fund help Canada remain at the forefront of exploration and knowledge generation while making meaningful contributions to generating social, health, environmental and economic benefits and addressing global challenges.

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