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New funding announced for brain and mental health

Brain Canada to fund six projects - over $7.4 million for brain and mental health

L to R: HBI Director Samuel Weiss, PhD, Mr. Ronald Mathison, Jean Addington, PhD and Mr. Rupert Duchesne at an event to announce more than $7.4 million in support for brain and mental health research at the University of Calgary.

The announcement was made today in Calgary by Rupert Duchesne, Chair of Brain Canada, for funding that comes from the Canada Brain Research Fund. The Government of Canada, through the Canada Brain Research Fund, provides half of the funding for the projects. The other half is provided by private donors, research institutes, provincial funding agencies, and charitable organizations partnering with the Brain Canada Foundation.

“The funding we are announcing today showcases Alberta’s important contributions to the Canadian and global effort to understand the brain and brain diseases—from basic research through to population health. Brain Canada thanks all of the donors and partners on these projects, whose support is being matched by the Government of Canada. This significant investment in brain research in Alberta is a testament to the success of the Canada Brain Research Fund public-private partnership model,” said Inez Jabalpurwala, president and CEO of Brain Canada.

“Our government recognizes the very real impact that neurological and mental health conditions have on Canadian families,” said Joan Crockatt, Member of Parliament (Calgary Centre), on behalf of the Honorable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health. “We are proud to be supporting these innovative new research projects that will help to advance our knowledge on neurological and mental health.”

Jean Addington, PhD, a member of the university’s Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI), is the lead researcher behind a project that is receiving almost $1.5 million to start a clinical study. She hopes to identify youth at risk before they develop a serious mental illness so that intervention can begin as soon as possible. The research will also look at understanding the triggers of these mental illnesses.

“The work being done here demonstrates the university’s leadership in the area of brain and mental health,” says Ed McCauley, vice-president (research) at the University of Calgary. “I am very proud that our researchers attracted this support, and it truly shines a light on the excellent work they do in areas of health that are vital to our community.”

For the adolescent mental health study, Addington and a team of researchers at The Mathison Centre will assess a wide range of clinical and psychosocial factors to determine which of those can be used to predict key outcomes, such as increasing disability; secondary substance abuse; not participating in education or employment; new self-harm; and worsening physical health, as well as mental illness development.

“Through this research, we want to understand the different levels of risk for mental illness in youth, and the factors that both increase and decrease risk, so that we can ultimately offer appropriate levels of care, and intervention,” says Addington.

As part of the research, in addition to the clinical component, the study will perform brain scans and analyze blood to see if it can identify biological factors that may further contribute to the development of mental illness in youth.

Addington will be working with Calgary researchers from the HBI and the university’s Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI), including Dr. Glenda MacQueen; JianLi Wang, PhD; Signe Bray, PhD; and Catherine Lebel, PhD. Calgary will also partner with the University of Toronto and will recruit 240 youth for the study, with 160 in Calgary and 80 in Toronto.

Another highlight in this announcement is the award of close to $3 million to one single project. Lead investigator Deborah Kurrasch, PhD, and co-lead Dr. Jong Rho of ACHRI will study new compounds in zebrafish to help improve epilepsy seizure control in humans and overall health management.

The adolescent mental health project will be recruiting youth ages 12-25 starting in January 2015. The study will be following participants for two years. The recruitment phone number is 403-210-8740.

The six projects include:

Multi-Investigator Research Initiative (MIRI) grants:

Adolescent Mental Health, Dr. Jean Addington, $1,499,768
Partner: The Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education, University of Calgary

Understanding stress to improve mental health, Jaideep Bains, PhD, $1,500,000
Partner: Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary

Platform Support Grants:

A Novel Zebrafish-Based Platform for Anticonvulsant Drug Development, Deborah Kurrasch, PhD, $2,953,370
Partners: Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation

The Experimental Imaging Centre: a local Brain Canada Platform for Preclinical MR Neuroimaging, Jeff Dunn, PhD, $300,000
Partner: University of Calgary

Building the Rick Hansen Alberta Spinal Cord Injury Registry, Dr. Chester Ho, $899,886
Partners: Department of Clinical Neurosciences and Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary, The Alberta Paraplegic Foundation, University of Alberta

Regeneration Unit in Neurology: A Platform for Research and Training in Advanced Microscopy and Behavioural Approaches, Patrick Whelan, PhD, $300,000
Partner: Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary

For detailed summaries of each project, click here.