Here is a brief list of the biggest news stories from The Neuro throughout 2021.
Important new projects
To better recognize the work of clinicians and researchers, The Neuro launched its A Day in the Life series. Through articles, videos, photos and interviews, A Day in the Life follows staff through their daily routines to help understand the challenges they face and what makes them love their work. So far, the series has visited the Clinical Research Unit, the Neuro ICU and the neuro-palliative care team. Look out for more profiles in 2022.
The Neuro also launched its Clinical Biospecimen Imaging and Genetic (C-BIG) Repository in 2021. The C-BIG is one of the largest biorepositories of neurological disorders in the world, with biological samples and clinical, imaging and genetics data from more than 3,000 de-identified participants. As an open-access resource, the repository will enable the global biomedical community to better investigate neurological diseases and disorders to accelerate the development of effective treatments.
Open Science grows stronger
The C-BIG launch was not the only Open Science news this year. In October, The Tanenbaum Open Science Institute (TOSI) at The Neuro welcomed The University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute as the first institutional partner in adopting Open Science. This major endeavour was supported by a $2M commitment from TOSI and the Larry & Judy Tanenbaum Family Foundation.
In November, The Neuro held its annual Open Science in Action Symposium. The two-day event brought together leading experts in science and healthcare to discuss the importance of data sharing and collaboration. This year the symposium “opened” its list of topics to include infectious diseases and antivirals, important areas of research given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Meeting patient needs with clinical research
Despite the challenges imposed by COVID-19, clinical care continued at The Neuro, and clinical research along with it. The Azrieli Centre for Autism Research (ACAR) Clinic offers expert diagnosis and personalized services for autistic people and their families. As a research clinic, patients are enrolled in studies using an “opt out” approach (that is, participation in research with the option to drop out at any time without interruption to clinical services).
The Neuro’s Clinical Research Unit (CRU) has been part of some important clinical trials this year. One of the most promising is a study to develop therapies that fight MS while keeping the patient’s immune system functional. Current MS treatments work by suppressing the body’s immune system, but that leaves patients at risk of infection, including to COVID-19. This study is testing a new approach: targeting BTK inhibitors, which may be more accurate in suppressing the damaging part of the immune system while leaving it free to combat infection.
Big funding announcements
The Neuro’s researchers received some major funding this year. A project co-led by Dr. Ron Postuma received $35.1 million USD from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) in the United States. The grant will fund research into the link between REM sleep behaviour disorder and neurodegeneration. The ultimate goal is finding biomarkers that can help researchers select patients for clinical trials, to test treatments that prevent neurodegeneration before it occurs. The project, called NAPS2, is led by Dr. Postuma along with Dr. Yo-El Ju from Washington University School of Medicine and Dr. Bradley Boeve from the Mayo Clinic.
Brain imaging at The Neuro got a major boost thanks to a $4.67M grant from Brain Canada. This funding will support the McConnell Brain Imaging Centre, furthering its leadership position and increasing its capacity to share data and knowledge with the scientific community worldwide.
Funding not only came from public funders but private donors. The Neuro’s annual brain cancer research fundraiser, A Brilliant Night, amassed $923,775 in October, adding to the $5.1M net raised since 2015. MS research at The Neuro and the CHUM also got some help from Félix Jasmin, who portaged from Toronto to Montreal to raise money for the cause. In the end, he collected $526,000, adding to the $380,000 he raised in 2020.