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High risk, high reward

Emerging health researchers receive grants to advance brain studies


By Kelly Foss

Two Memorial researchers are being recognized for their transformative research to advance the understanding of the brain, in illness or health.

Dr. Francis Bambico is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Science, and Dr. Matthew Parsons (B.Sc.’04, M.Sc.’06, PhD’11) is an assistant professor in the Division of BioMedical Sciences (neurosciences), Faculty of Medicine.

They will each receive a $100,000 Canadian Early-Career Capacity Building Grant from the Azrieli Foundation, in partnership with the Brain Canada Foundation. Both are among 10 new recipients of the funding, which is supported by Health Canada through the Canada Brain Research Fund, which provides an opportunity for researchers to build their careers and is aligned with the federal government’s policy of supporting early-career researchers who are conducting world-class research.

Outside-the-box thinking

Dr. Parson’s funded project is titled, How Do Brain Cells Communicate and Why Do Some Cells Stop Talking to One Another?

Dr. Matthew Parsons
Photo: HSIMS

“Most funding opportunities require the applicant to show a significant amount of preliminary data that support the hypothesis of the project,” he said. “This requirement makes it difficult for a new lab to explore new territory and take risks – risks that often times lead to great discoveries.

“The Early-Career Capacity Building Grant will enable my lab to think outside the box when researching brain cell communication in neurodegenerative disease and provides the perfect complement to our research that is funded through more conventional funding opportunities.”

Bridging knowledge

Dr. Bambico received funding for his project, titled A New Minimally Invasive Way to Stimulate Specific Neurons to Treat Brain Disorders.

Dr. Francis Bambico
Photo: HSIMS

“I hope to contribute towards the development of transformative and creative innovations potentially capable of addressing the limitations of current treatments, which could hopefully benefit the 450 million people currently suffering from a form of mental or neurological disorder,” he said.

“One of my ultimate goals is to find minimally invasive ways of stimulating brain cells that are abnormally active, without disturbing normally functioning cells. That’s what this proposed procedural intervention seeks to achieve, by bridging our knowledge about non-invasive therapeutic brain stimulation and drugs that trigger the excitability of specific subtypes of neurons.”

Fundamental change

The Memorial researchers were selected from 84 applicants across the country, following a national open call and rigorous review process involving Canadian and international researchers and clinicians.

The announcement was made during Brain Awareness Week. The funded projects focus on specific diseases and disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, autism, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, or target multiple areas.

“They approach their research with a high risk/high reward approach, and that is something that we want to support.” — Naomi Azrieli

The findings from their research have the potential to fundamentally change the understanding of nervous system function and dysfunction and the impact on health.

“We are committed to these investigators who are in the early stages of their careers, as they are in a unique position to advance innovative research projects,” said Naomi Azrieli, chair and CEO of the Azrieli Foundation “They often have difficulty securing their first grant through traditional funding, yet they approach their research with a high risk/high reward approach, and that is something that we want to support.”

“We are helping ensure that Canada has a robust pipeline of talent, and remains at the forefront in the field of brain research.” — Inez Jabalpurwala

The Azrieli Foundation invests in scientific and medical research, higher education, youth empowerment and school perseverance, Holocaust education, music and the arts, architecture and quality of life initiatives for people with developmental disabilities.

Brain Canada enables and supports excellent, innovative, paradigm-changing brain research in Canada. The Canada Brain Research Fund is designed to encourage Canadians to increase their support of brain research and maximize the impact and efficiency of those investments.

“Brain Canada has always believed in the importance of supporting the next generation of researchers,” said Inez Jabalpurwala, president and CEO of Brain Canada.  “With this new grant program, we are helping ensure that Canada has a robust pipeline of talent, and remains at the forefront in the field of brain research.”

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