It has been a challenging year for everyone and especially healthcare workers. They have done amazing work taking care of patients during a pandemic, often under stress and difficult conditions. At The Neuro, research and clinical care, and the life of the institution forged ahead, with several important milestones reached. New collaborations were announced, major staff assignments were made, new treatments came into use, and fundraising and grant awards continued. Here are a few highlights from this extraordinary year.
In recent years, establishing major collaborations with other high-profile institutes became a trend at The Neuro. In 2020, the collaborative momentum continued with the announcement of a three-year agreement involving The Neuro, McGill University and Université de Montréal to jointly study Parkinson’s disease (PD). The agreement was funded by a grant of more than $12.5 million dollars from Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP), an initiative of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease. “An unprecedented level of funding,” declared Dr. Heidi McBride, who carries out basic research into PD and other neurodegenerative diseases at The Neuro.
PD was also the target of another major collaborative effort involving The Neuro: the Canadian Open Parkinson’s Network (C-OPN). This undertaking brings together leading researchers at seven sites in four provinces. C-OPN researchers will complete multidisciplinary projects on a large scale using their combined databases. Dr. Edward Fon, The Neuro’s scientific director as well as the director of the Quebec Parkinson Network, is C-OPN’s co-director.
In June, The Neuro became a member of a vast new open-science consortium called Enabling and Unlocking Biology in the OPEN (EUbOPEN). This consortium comprises 22 research institutes, universities and enterprises based mainly in Europe. Indeed, The Neuro is one of only three non-EU partners in the consortium. EUbOPEN aims to develop and disseminate high quality chemical tool compounds for proteins urgently needed for basic and applied research. Testing at The Neuro is being carried out in Dr. Edward Fon’s laboratory and at the Open Early Drug Discovery Platform.
Teaming up to design and manufacture facemasks
When the pandemic began a group of health professionals and researchers got together to fill a dire need that existed for hospital staff. Face masks at the time were in short supply, so Leigh MacIntyre, a senior research project manager at the The Neuro, teamed up with Dr. Avinash Sinha, an anesthesiologist at the McGill University Health Centre, and AON3D, a Montreal-based 3D printing company, to design and manufacture face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They took an open-source design and improved upon it, making the new design available open-access for anyone to use. The masks they manufactured went on to keep patients and staff safe across multiple hospitals.
Approval of ALS drug
Clinicians and patients at The Neuro’s ALS clinic were overjoyed in April when Quebec’s government approved Radicava (also known as edaravone) as one of the drugs covered by the province’s public health insurance. Health Canada had given federal approval for the drug in 2018, the first ALS drug to gain approval in over two decades. Dr. Angela Genge, director of The Neuro’s Clinical Research Unit and its ALS Program, called the move “the most significant step in the treatment of this disease in over 20 years.” About three thousand Canadians have ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that is fatal within two to five years in 80 per cent of cases.
Repository going live
Another milestone for Open Science at The Neuro came in November when the Clinical Biologic Imaging and Genetic (C-BIG) Repository opened its data to outside collaborators. Inaugurated in 2016 as part of The Neuro’s Tanenbaum Open Science Institute (TOSI), the repository has been collecting clinical, imaging and genetic data from thousands of patients with PD, ALS, multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases. Its director, Dr. Jason Karamchandani, invites the world’s researchers to access the repository in their search for better disease treatments and to provide feedback on improving the portal.
New logo and identity
Emblematic of The Neuro’s vigour in its ninth decade was the introduction of its new logo and visual identity in February. The logo’s rosette evokes a neuron and symbolizes The Neuro’s multidisciplinary approach. Bold colours were chosen to represent expertise, patient care and conscientiousness. Designed in partnership with marketing agency BrandBourg, the new visual identity was unveiled to launch The Neuro’s biggest fundraising campaign, Brains Need Open Minds.
Other highlights from 2020
- It has been a banner year for The Neuro’s director, Dr. Guy Rouleau, who received not only the Canada Gairdner Wightman Award but also the Order of Canada for leadership in research and Open Science.
- The Neuro’s Open Science symposium was the most attended yet, at more than 500 attendees. The virtual format gave people a chance to attend from all over the world.
- Four researchers at The Neuro — Boris Bernhardt, Yasser Iturria-Medina, Jean-Francois Poulin, and Jo Anne Stratton — have received grants to support their work in the early-career stage, after being chosen from 150 talented applicants.
- Our annual brain cancer fundraiser, A Brilliant Night, raised more than $700,000 for research, despite being a virtual format this year.
- Stefano Stifani was appointed Associate Director (Fundamental Research) of the Azrieli Centre for Autism Research (ACAR).