> New institute to drive brain research

New institute to drive brain research

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Contact:
Urs Ribary, 778.782.3791; urs_ribary@sfu.ca (away for two weeks after Dec. 18)
Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.3210


December 16, 2009
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A new Simon Fraser University-based institute to advance brain-imaging research on an international scale is one of several SFU research projects that received funding today from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

Urs Ribary, SFU’s B.C. Leadership Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience in Early Childhood Health and Development, will head up the new Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Institute (BCNI), funded by a $500,000 CFI grant.

The institute’s goal is to better understand the developing human brain, cognitive disabilities and neurological and mental disorders.

According to Ribary, the BCNI will become part of a global strategy on brain imaging research, with links to multidisciplinary departments at SFU, the Child & Family Research Institute (B.C. Childrens’ Hospital) and UBC. It will facilitate research collaborations and provide additional tools and training.

The institute will address “society’s critical need for further knowledge and understanding of how the brain functions,” and how the medical community can help people affected with disabilities and neurological and mental disorders, says Ribary.

The internationally known neuroscientist has spent more than three decades delving into the brain’s inner workings. He came to SFU two years ago with the goal of developing a multidisciplinary institute that would “take sophisticated analyses of brain imaging to the next level.”

“We have already determined that there are basic mechanisms of the brain that are common to study across different pathologies – we need to go into this in more detail,” says Ribary, the former director of the Center for Neuromagnetism, an MEG Brain Imaging Center at New York University Medical Centre.

Ribary says new research will explore further the dynamics of brain network connections that underlie normal and altered cognitive functions by analyzing the signals between brain areas across frequency and time.

“By better understanding the developing human brain and its connectivity our researchers can develop objective ‘brain-based’ diagnostic procedures for cognitive abnormalities and neurological and psychiatric conditions. That can translate into better and more specific early intervention therapies.”

The institute will provide further upgrade the current magnetoencephalography (MEG) facility housed at Burnaby’s Down Syndrome Research Foundation.

CFI funds will also help establish SFU’s first laboratory aimed specifically at the development of an HIV vaccine and modern vaccine technologies.

Health sciences professor Ralph Pantophlet will head the Infectious Diseases Immunology Laboratory. He’ll focus on the study of anti-viral antibody responses, particularly to HIV, and the development of new vaccine design strategies for HIV and potentially other important viruses such as influenza.

As well, health sciences researchers Frank Lee and Gratien Prefontaine will use new CFI funds towards their investigations of the molecular mechanisms of a variety of chronic diseases ranging from cancer to Parkinson’s disease.

The funds for all three SFU projects are part of a $59-million CFI investment in research at 40 institutions the federal government announced today (Dec. 16).

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