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Q&A: HOW SFU IS TAKING BRAIN RESEARCH IN PROMISING NEW DIRECTIONS
Renowned neuroscientist and Professor Randy McIntosh brings more than 25 years of expertise in neuroscience research to Simon Fraser University (SFU), with his appointment to the new BC Leadership Chair in Neuroscience and Technology Translation Across the Lifespan. He will lead the new SFU Institute for Neuroscience and Neurotechnology (INN), based at our Burnaby campus. The INN will serve as a hub for research, training and engagement, bringing together researchers from across SFU and supporting interdisciplinary research and collaborations at the university and beyond.
We spoke with McIntosh about his research, the institute and his new role at SFU.
Tell us about your academic background and research interests.
I received my PhD in psychology doing work in behavioural and cognitive neuroscience. In parallel, I developed an interest in data analytics, which has helped create methods that were tailored to answer complicated questions about the brain. This includes multivariate statistical tools and the most recent work co-developing The Virtual Brain, which we can use to build brain simulations based on an individual’s data. The collection of tools will lead to a better understanding of individual brain function and changes in clinical conditions.
What are the fundamental values of your research? Why is your research important to the province, Canadians and global citizens?
The focus of SFU’s neuroscience effort is to better understand the fundamentals of nervous system function across the lifespan. With this knowledge, we will be able to develop novel treatments for a variety of neurological conditions, such as different types of dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, autism spectrum disorder, stroke, and spinal cord injury, as well as conditions associated with mental health and addiction. We also embrace an inclusive approach to address the unique needs of different communities.
What are the main functions of the INN? What solutions will this new institute aim to explore?
We want the INN to be a singular focus for neuroscience at SFU. We will do this by first, giving technical support for SFU scientists and trainees to use new tools to address their research questions, and second, by linking research efforts across the campuses to address key questions about the brain. We will be able to support brain health and resilience using both technological solutions and effective health promotion.
What does becoming a BC Leadership Chair at SFU mean to you?
This position gives me an opportunity to build on over 25 years of a neuroscience foundation to do something new at SFU that I think will transform how we approach the brain. I have been building the ideas around an inclusive and extended approach to neuroscience that goes outside traditional boundaries—and I am confident that SFU is the place to make these ideas a reality.
What is something about your career that we would be surprised to learn?
In addition to science, I enjoy writing fiction. My first novel, A Complex Journey—a sci-fi novel with a brain angle—has just been printed for distribution in hard copy and e-book form. I have also published two short stories entitled, A Different Kind of Sameness and For The Cost Of A Steak Dinner.
What are you most looking forward to while working at SFU?
When I first talked to SFU faculty, staff and students, I was struck by two things. First is the genuine enthusiasm everyone has for working together. Second is the shared dedication to do something different that will have a real impact on the broader SFU community, and beyond. I can think of no better environment to foster the ideas I have for neuroscience that we will develop through the INN.
See the SFU News story.