Exoskeleton robot helps researchers shed new light on learning and stroke recovery

UCalgary clinical trial maps how we learn motor skills, and the results could be a game-changer for stroke rehabilitation.

This morning, you probably reached out of bed to turn off your alarm clock, and later brushed your teeth or buttoned a shirt. Those movements are routine; mundane, even. You are long past the point of wondering how you learned to do any of those things and don’t give a second thought to the complexity of what happened in your brain so that your arm could lift your cup of coffee. Continue reading

Discovery reveals blocking inflammation may lead to chronic pain

back pain

Findings may lead to reconsideration of how we treat acute pain

Using anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids to relieve pain could increase the chances of developing chronic pain, according to researchers from McGill University and colleagues in Italy. Their research puts into question conventional practices used to alleviate pain. Normal recovery from a painful injury involves inflammation and blocking that inflammation with drugs could lead to harder-to-treat pain.

“For many decades it’s been standard medical practice to treat pain with anti-inflammatory drugs. But we found that this short-term fix could lead to longer-term problems,” says Jeffrey Mogil, a Professor in the Department of Psychology at McGill University and E. P. Taylor Chair in Pain Studies.

The difference between people who get better and don’t

In the study published in Science Translational Medicine, the researchers examined the mechanisms of pain in both humans and mice. They found that neutrophils – a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight infection – play a key role in resolving pain.

“In analyzing the genes of people suffering from lower back pain, we observed active changes in genes over time in people whose pain went away. Changes in the blood cells and their activity seemed to be the most important factor, especially in cells called neutrophils,” says Luda Diatchenko a Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Dentistry, and Canada Excellence Research Chair in Human Pain Genetics.

Read the full story on the McGill University website

Congratulations to the winners of the 2021 CAN- CIHR-INMHA Brain Star Awards!

The Canadian Association for Neuroscience (CAN) and the Canadian Institutes of Health’s Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction (CIHR-INMHA) are proud to announce the winners of the 2021 Brain Star Awards.

The CIHR-INMHA Brain Star awards, administered for 2021 by the Canadian Association for Neuroscience, are awarded to students and trainees who have published high impact discoveries in all fields and disciplines covered by CIHR’s Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction in the 2021 calendar year.

The top 3 Brain Star Award winners of the year have been invited to make a presentation at the CAN meeting in May.

Read about the Brain Star Award winners of 2021

Promising new treatment for ALS goes to clinical trials

Physiotherapist assisting a patient with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

After 12 years of research, Dr. Richard Robitaille is hopeful that we’ll soon have a treatment to help people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) regain mobility.

A new clinical trial is set to start soon, thanks to a $1-million grant from the American ALS Association announced just before Christmas. “I’m still in shock! For me, this grant is recognition of years of hard work,” said Robitaille, a full professor in the Department of Neurosciences in the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Medicine. “Now we will be able to run clinical trials on patients with ALS and ultimately use what we learn to help others suffering from the disease.”

Read the full story on the Université de Montréal website

Men and women process pain signals differently

Drs. Annemarie Dedek, Eve Tsai, Mike Hildebrand and colleagues have discovered that neurons in the spinal cord process pain signals differently in women compared to men. Image courtesy of Justin Tang.
Drs. Annemarie Dedek, Eve Tsai, Mike Hildebrand and colleagues have discovered that neurons in the spinal cord process pain signals differently in women compared to men. Image courtesy of Justin Tang.

A new study published in the journal BRAIN shows for the first time that neurons in the spinal cord process pain signals differently in women compared to men. The finding could lead to better and more personalized treatments for chronic pain, which are desperately needed, especially in light of the opioid epidemic.

Although it has long been known that women and men experience pain differently, most pain research uses male rodents. The new study is unique because it used female and male spinal cord tissue from both rats and humans (generously donated by deceased individuals and their families). Continue reading

UCalgary researchers use computer modelling to simulate impact of Alzheimer’s on the brain

SumaLateral Whole Brain Image - NIH image gallery

New way to model neural disease could lead to better understanding

Author: Shea Coburn, Hotchkiss Brain Institute

A deep neural network is a computerized brain-inspired machine learning model, which uses many layers of simulated neurons to mimic the function of the cerebral cortex. Each layer in the network creates more complex activity, which simulates the way information is processed in the human brain. These networks can be designed to replicate structures in the brain, allowing researchers and scientists to model specific brain functions more easily.

University of Calgary researchers have taken a new approach to using these networks for modelling of the human brain. Most studies, to date, have used deep neural networks to look at healthy brain function. These investigators wanted to know if these models could be applied to better understand brain function in a diseased brain. In this case, looking at posterior cortical atrophy (PCA), an atypical form of Alzheimer’s disease affecting the visual cortex.

“Using these artificial networks to model dementia could enable an improved understanding of the disease,” says Dr. Nils Forkert, PhD, an associate professor in the Cumming School of Medicine and principal investigator. “It allows us to have one well-established reference model that can be damaged in many different ways versus having to image hundreds of patients with different neurodegeneration patterns to obtain similar information.”

In the findings published in Frontiers in Neuroinformatics, Forkert, along with Dr. Anup Tuladhar, PhD, Dr. Zahinoor Ismail, MD, and PhD student Jasmine A. Moore used a standard neural network for automatic object recognition in images, titled VGG19, to simulate a brain with dementia symptoms. The researchers progressively damaged connections between neurons in the network, to mimic neurodegeneration in the visual system of the human brain.

Read the full story on the University of Calgary website

Brain Prize 2022: Pioneering work on how the nervous system controls movement awarded world’s top brain research prize

Three internationally renowned professors in neuroscience have transformed our understanding of the specific cell types and circuits that control movement: Silvia Arber (Switzerland), Ole Kiehn (Denmark) and Martyn Goulding (USA/New Zealand).

Their work has revolutionized our understanding of how we move, research now recognised with the award of the 2022 Brain Prize – the world’s most prestigious prize in neuroscience.

Learn more about the Brain Prize winners on the Lundbeck Foundation website here: Pioneering work on how the nervous system controls movement awarded world’s top brain research prize

Call for applications – Canadian neuroadvocates for the 2022 CAN Parliament Hill Week

We are excited to launch the application period for Canadian neuroadvocates for the next CAN Parliament Hill Week, which will take place in March 2022, as a virtual event. We are looking for a representative and diverse group of neuroscientists to meet with members of Parliament, Senators and Parliament Hill staff to highlight the importance of basic research in Canada, and the need to support it better.

Neuroscientists recruited for this event will be invited to participate in one to four meetings, in groups of four our five, to talk about their research and the importance of federal funding to support it. We aim to match neuroadvocates with representatives from their riding and/or with interest in their research topic, as much as possible. Meetings typically last 30 to 45 minutes. A training session will be held in advance of the meeting.

The application period is open until February 28, 2022. Continue reading