Brain unit attracts researchers

April 28, 2005, vol. 33, no. 1
By Marianne Meadahl

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A new facility specializing in brain development, with a goal of improving the lives of those with Down syndrome and other developmental challenges, will reap the benefits of a $1.44 million grant from the province's B.C. knowledge development fund given to SFU and the Down Syndrome Research Foundation (DSRF).

The grant completes funding for the $3.6 million new magnetoencephalography neuroscience unit housed in the Down Syndrome Research Foundation's Burnaby facility, and furthers the university's research partnership with the foundation, which began a decade ago.

“SFU has established an outstanding team of scientists and collaborators poised to take centre stage as a world leader in behavioural neuroscience research, particularly as it pertains to improving life for children with Down syndrome and other developmental challenges,” says  Mario Pinto, SFU's VP-research. “Through this partnership, SFU has gained joint ownership in magnetoencephalographic brain-imaging technology, the only such system in western Canada.”

The technology, created by Coquitlam-based VSM MedTech Ltd., is an Omega 151-channel magnetoencephalography system (known as MEG) which provides precise information about brain function for both diagnostic and research purposes. It is housed in a magnetically shielded room to protect the sensitive measurements of magnetism within the brain when participants perform specific tasks.

“The unit has already attracted outstanding researchers from across Canada and the world with expertise in key areas of intellectual disability,” notes grant recipient Dan Weeks, SFU's chair of psychology, who specializes in Down syndrome research.

“Their skills, combined with the unique brain imaging and scientific resources provided by this state-of-the art equipment, will move us ahead in our mandate to optimize health and development in people with developmental disabilities.”

The cheque was presented at a ceremony at the DSRF April 13. Jo Mills, DSRF executive director, says, “The future research and clinical applications provide exciting directions for our collaboration. The support of the provincial government will enable B.C. to lead the world in this area.”

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