To solve the problem of brain disease, make research openly available

Open Science can unlock the potential of new technologies that are making detailed study of the brain possible like never before.

In 2016, The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) launched an initiative to fully adopt open science with the creation of the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute (TOSI). While the definition of open science varies between institutions and fields, in our case it is the free sharing of data, reagents, results, and biomaterials from patients, and the elimination of barriers to collaboration with colleagues and industry. 

As a publicly funded institution, we have a duty to share our results openly. A key component of our initiative is open data – sharing of research data and results to anyone who wishes to see them, free of paywalls and exclusive access.  At The Neuro we have worked hard to build an open repository of patient samples, planning the necessary IT infrastructure to handle large-scale data sharing, and protect patient confidentiality, forging unique and promising open drug discovery projects with partners in industry and hiring a number of researchers with impeccable open science credentials.

Open science is particularly relevant for the field of neuroscience. Thanks to breakthroughs in other medical fields such as cardiology and cancer research, people are living longer than ever. But brain diseases are becoming the dilemma of our time. This means more people suffer from the brain diseases of aging, namely Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and dementia. We have not been able to keep up with this trend, and as a result, few if any effective treatments exist for many neurological conditions.

This is largely due to the complexity of the brain compared to other organs. But our progress has also been slowed by closed silos of knowledge, which stifle collaboration and the sharing of resources. Understanding a complex organ like the brain requires massive amounts of data from multiple researchers and institutions. In many cases, the only way to access enough of this data is through open science.

Open science can unlock the potential of new technologies that are making detailed study of the brain possible like never before. For example, you can make any type of brain cell in culture from any patient, simply using blood as a starting point; brain and cellular imaging is improving in leaps and bounds; detailed single cell studies are now possible; genetics and genomics is exploding; artificial intelligence and neuroinformatics are allowing us to sift through an enormous amount of brain data.

While we at The Neuro have all these tools under one roof, their potential is limited if we keep our findings under lock and key. By sharing our research openly, and actively engaging open collaborations with all stakeholders of the research and innovation ecosystem, we maximize the potential for medical breakthroughs that improve the lives of our patients.

The Neuro was founded with a unique vision on how to advance medicine: patient-centered science. This was the vision of our founder, Dr. Wilder Penfield. It has led to many successes, including the first map of the sensory and motor functions of the cortex, the first effective surgical treatment for epilepsy, Canada’s first CAT, PET and MRI scanners, a transformation of our understanding of human memory, and discovery of genes responsible for many brain diseases, including ALS and stroke.

Open science is our way to continue pushing the boundaries of science for the benefit of our patients as we enter an era when neuroscience is more important to human health than ever before.

 

Dr. Viviane Poupon is the Director, Scientific Development and Partnerships, and Chief Operating Officer of the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute at The Neuro. 

This article was originally published by the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) on November 5, 2019. 

 

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The Neuro is a McGill research and teaching institute; delivering the highest quality patient care, as part of the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre. We are proud to be a Killam Institution, supported by the Killam Trusts.