Awards, Faculty, FASS News, Research

Innovative Alzheimer’s researcher named Canada Research Chair, receives $350k in funding

January 12, 2022

From studying circadian rhythms to conducting cognitive tests using touchscreens, psychology professor Brianne Kent’s research is breaking new ground in developing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. Kent’s contributions to Alzheimer’s research have earned her a spot among Canada Research Chairs in 2021. She will also be receiving $350,000 in funding from the John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) to support further research.

The Canada Research Chairs Program (CRCP) stands at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world's top countries in research and development. It invests up to $295 million per year to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising researchers.

Kent is also one of 43 researchers who will be receiving research funding through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI)'s John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) to support further research associated with a CRC. Kent is one of two CRC recipients at SFU and will be receiving $350,000 in funding to conduct further research on Alzheimer’s disease.

Kent’s research involves studying both rodent and human sleep processes to better understand how sleep disturbances associated with Alzheimer’s disease contribute to the progressive memory loss caused by the disease. Alzheimer's disease may account for between 60 to 70 per cent of dementia cases with very limited treatments currently available.

Recent discoveries have shown a significant link between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease, and Kent’s research seeks to probe this area of study to explore novel interventions to prevent and slow disease progression.

“I first learned about the powerful influence circadian rhythms have on our physiology and behaviour when I completed my undergraduate honours thesis at SFU with Dr. Ralph Mistlberger,” says Kent. “I spent the last two years at Harvard Medical School as a Research Fellow developing techniques for studying circadian rhythms in humans.”

Kent examines cognitive processes relating to sleep and circadian rhythm disruptions in rodents and applies the insight gained from rodent models to evaluate the same processes in humans. Her research uses touchscreen cognitive tests for rodents to better support the comparability between rodent models and humans while also enabling greater control and precision in her studies.

By studying the same processes in rodents and humans, Kent’s research aims to shrink the “translational gap”: this refers to the challenge of moving discoveries from fundamental science and preclinical research into the clinical domain—a major hurdle in Alzheimer’s research.

“Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and a leading cause of death in Canada, with unfortunately very limited treatments,” says Kent. “By conducting research on translation, I hope that my work will lead to new treatments for this devastating disease.”

Brianne Kent is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, Canada Research Chair in Translational Neuroscience and Dementia, and a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Scholar. She serves as an Open Science advocate and member of the CIHR Governing Council.