Col­lab­o­ra­tion key to un­rav­el­ling mys­ter­ies of the mind

Trek Magazine - - -

Call it the ul­ti­mate brain trust. At UBC’s Djavad Mowafaghian Cen­tre for Brain Health, more than 250 re­searchers from the fields of neu­rol­ogy, neu­ro­science and psy­chi­a­try are work­ing to­gether to solve the world’s great­est mys­tery: the hu­man brain.

Bridg­ing ba­sic sci­ence and clin­i­cal care in a state-of-the-art fa­cil­ity, the cen­tre pro­vides op­por­tu­ni­ties for ed­u­ca­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion, and in­ter­ac­tion with pa­tients from across BC. It is the largest and most com­pre­hen­sive brain care and re­search cen­tre in Canada, and is a part­ner­ship be­tween UBC’s Fac­ulty of Medicine, Van­cou­ver Coastal Health, and Van­cou­ver Coastal Health Re­search In­sti­tute.

Un­der the lead­er­ship of co-di­rec­tors Drs. Brian MacVicar and Jon Stoessl, the cen­tre is poised to move re­search from the bed­side to the bench and back again, in or­der to un­der­stand dis­ease and trans­late re­search into bet­ter pa­tient care and ther­a­pies.

“In­ter­ac­tion is key for us,” says MacVicar of the col­lab­o­ra­tive na­ture of the cen­tre. “We want sci­en­tists and clin­i­cians work­ing to­gether, sit­ting down to talk about the pos­si­bil­i­ties out there, learn­ing about each other’s con­straints, and talk­ing about crazy ideas. We need the crazy ideas to chal­lenge dog­mas in brain sci­ence and come up with new so­lu­tions.”

The good news is that it’s work­ing. The cen­tre’s unique ap­proach is help­ing UBC to re­cruit some of the world’s lead­ing sci­en­tists, and is pro­vid­ing stu­dents with un­prece­dented ex­pe­ri­ence in col­lab­o­ra­tion that could change the fu­ture of medicine. That’s wel­come news given that brain dis­ease is on its way to be­com­ing Canada’s lead­ing cause of death: it al­ready af­fects one in three Cana­di­ans and costs the econ­omy more than $30 bil­lion a year.

The cen­tre is home to clin­ics that in­ves­ti­gate and treat vir­tu­ally ev­ery kind of brain ill­ness and in­jury, from Parkin­son’s, ALS, Mul­ti­ple Scle­ro­sis, Hunt­ing­ton’s and Alzheimer’s, to con­cus­sion, ad­dic­tion and men­tal health.

It’s a hub for re­searchers such as Dr. Lara Boyd, a neu­ro­sci­en­tist and phys­i­cal ther­a­pist who holds the Canada Re­search Chair in Neu­ro­bi­ol­ogy of Mo­tor Learn­ing. Boyd’s mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary team in the Brain Be­hav­iour Lab is suc­cess­fully curb­ing the ef­fects of stroke through early in­ter­ven­tion and in­no­va­tive treat­ments that stim­u­late healthy parts of the brain to take over lost func­tions.

“The cen­tre’s in­te­grated ap­proach has been crit­i­cal to my lab’s suc­cess,” says Boyd. “Solv­ing prob­lems such as strokes re­quires re­search from mul­ti­ple an­gles. It’s mak­ing con­nec­tions and lever­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion that we share – drugs and ther­a­pies – to max­i­mize so­lu­tions.”

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