News Updates

News Updates

BRC researchers find brain region that helps you make up your mind

One of the smallest parts of the brain is getting a second look after new research suggests it plays a crucial role in decision making.

A University of British Columbia study published today in Nature Neuroscience says the lateral habenula, a region of the brain linked to depression and avoidance behaviours, has been largely misunderstood and may be integral in cost-benefit decisions.

“These findings clarify the brain processes involved in the important decisions that we make on a daily basis, from choosing between job offers to deciding which house or car to buy,” says Prof. Stan Floresco of UBC’s Dept. of Psychology and Brain Research Centre (BRC). “It also suggests that the scientific community has misunderstood the true functioning of this mysterious, but important, region of the brain.”

In the study, scientists trained lab rats to choose between a consistent small reward (one food pellet) or a potentially larger reward (four food pellets) that appeared sporadically. Like humans, the rats tended to choose larger rewards when costs—in this case, the amount of time they had to wait before receiving food–were low and preferred smaller rewards when such risks were higher.

Previous studies suggest that turning off the lateral habenula would cause rats to choose the larger, riskier reward more often, but that was not the case. Instead, the rats selected either option at random, no longer showing the ability to choose the best option for them.

The findings have important implications for depression treatment. “Deep brain stimulation – which is thought to inactivate the lateral habenula — has been reported to improve depressive symptoms in humans,” Floresco says. “But our findings suggest these improvements may not be because patients feel happier. They may simply no longer care as much about what is making them feel depressed.”

Max Cynader inducted into Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

Dr. Max CynaderOn Tuesday, September 24, Max Cynader was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. Inductees are chosen because their passion and innovative, visionary leadership has improved health worldwide.

Dr. Cynader is a world renowned neuroscientist in the area of vision and brain development. His scientific discoveries, biotechnology companies, and community outreach have led to new treatments and improved public understanding of the importance of brain health. As a tireless proponent of multi-disciplinary brain research, Dr. Cynader is the founding director of the Brain Research Centre at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute – one of Canada’s foremost neuroscience research communities. A creative and energetic leader, Dr. Cynader has been instrumental in the creation of the new Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, which will incorporate clinical research into patient care.

Dr. Cynader joins five other recipients from across the country in receiving this prestigious honour.

Established in 1994, The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame is a national charitable organization that fosters future generations of health professionals through the celebration of our country’s rich medical history, scholarship program, and the delivery of both local and nationwide education programs for youth. Each year, up to six individuals are recognized for their extraordinary contribution to improving the health of Canadians and people world-wide.

Construction update on the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health

Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health - September 2013Construction of the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health is winding down. Within the next two months the landscaping; external glazing, cladding, and bridge construction; and the final electrical, millwork, floor covering installation, and painting will be completed.

Scheduled to be operational in early 2014, the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health will unite both patient clinics and research in the areas of neuroscience, neurology, and psychiatry. It will bring together, for the first time under one roof, all the multidisciplinary areas of brain health, including the UBC Hospital Clinic for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, the Centre for Huntington’s Disease, the Mood Disorders Centre, the Movement Disorders Clinic, the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic, and research clinical trials.

The Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health is a partnership of the Brain Research Centre, UBC Faculty of Medicine, and Vancouver Coastal Health.

Construction update on the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health

Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health - July 2013Construction of the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health is in the final stages. The construction site trailers have been removed, and the external landscaping, including the installation of gardens and a water feature, will be completed by the end of September. The building envelope is nearly finished, and the bridge structure connecting the third floor of the facility to the second floor of Koerner Pavilion, UBC Hospital has been installed. The interior of the first two floors is nearing completion, with the interior of the remaining floors to be finished by the end of October.

Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health glass artwork - July 2013Most of the glass artwork on the north windows of the facility has been installed. The design depicts two types of brain cells—pyramidal cells with dendritic spines, which appear vertically in the design, and round stellate cells, which are interconnected in the design. The white, translucent circles that fill the design are varied in size and density to create spatial depth when viewing the artwork from within the building or from afar. The circle shape was used to help make the design stand out and to represent the volume of data being transferred between brain cells.

Scheduled to open in the Fall/Winter 2013, the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health will unite both patient clinics and research in the areas of neuroscience, neurology, and psychiatry. It will bring together, for the first time under one roof, all the multidisciplinary areas of brain health, including the UBC Hospital Clinic for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, the Centre for Huntington’s Disease, the Mood Disorders Centre, the Movement Disorders Clinic, the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic, and research clinical trials.

The Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health is a partnership of the Brain Research Centre, UBC Faculty of Medicine, and Vancouver Coastal Health.

Impaired visual signals might contribute to schizophrenia symptoms

Miriam SperingBy observing the eye movements of schizophrenia patients while playing a simple video game, a University of British Columbia researcher has discovered a potential explanation for some of their symptoms, including difficulty with everyday tasks.

The research, published in a recent issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, shows that, compared to healthy controls, schizophrenia patients had a harder time tracking a moving dot on the computer monitor with their eyes and predicting its trajectory. But the impairment of their eye movements was not severe enough to explain the difference in their predictive performance, suggesting a breakdown in their ability to interpret what they saw.

Lead author Miriam Spering, an assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, says the patients were having trouble generating or using an “efference copy” – a signal sent from the eye movement system in the brain indicating how much, and in what direction, their eyes have moved. The efference copy helps validate visual information from the eyes.

“An impaired ability to generate or interpret efference copies means the brain cannot correct an incomplete perception,” says Spering, who conducted the dot-tracking experiments as a postdoctoral fellow at New York University, and is now conducting similar studies at UBC. The brain might fill in the blanks by extrapolating from prior experience, contributing to psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations.

“But just as a person might, through practice, improve their ability to predict the trajectory of a moving dot, a person might be able to improve their ability to generate or use that efference copy,” Spering says. “My vision would be a mobile device that patients could use to practice that skill, so they could more easily do common tasks that involve motion perception, such as walking along a crowded sidewalk.”

A video about the study is available at http://news.ubc.ca/2013/07/29/impaired-visual-signals-might-contribute-to-schizophrenia-symptoms/.

BACKGROUND | Keeping an eye on the ball

Study method

For the UBC study, schizophrenia patients, along with a control group, were asked to predict the trajectory of a small dot that appears briefly on a monitor as it moved toward a vertical line. As an infrared-equipped video camera tracked their eye movements, participants would call out whether it would hit or miss the line. The schizophrenia patients performed significantly worse than the control group in predicting hits and misses, and they were also not as good at tracking the dot with their eyes.

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder affecting about one per cent of the population that often causes people to hear voices that others don’t hear or see things that others don’t see. They can also be incoherent when talking, or may sit quietly for hours without moving or talking. People with schizophrenia often have poor motion perception and eye movements, leading them to bump into people while walking or making it a challenge to cross a street. They often cannot perform even simple tasks like preparing a shopping list or reading a transportation map.

Impact for Parkinson’s patients? Spering is now conducting the same experiment on people with Parkinson’s disease, a movement disorder caused by the lack of the brain chemical dopamine. In addition to muscle tremor and stiffness, Parkinson’s patients have poor visual perception and impaired eye movements. Spering is trying to see if the two are connected; if so, eye-movement exercises might improve vision in Parkinson’s patients.

Better baseball through science: Spering is working with UBC baseball head coach Terry McKaig, who sought out her expertise in visual neuroscience to improve his team’s hitting. She will soon begin testing players’ eye movements while they hit balls in a batting cage. “Coach McKaig is extremely interested in the science, and excited about the possibility to include vision training into the team’s daily routine,” Spering says. “We are using a highly scientific approach to first understand the mechanisms that could lead to improvements, and then using our knowledge to enhance performance in the field.”

Contact:

Brian Lin
UBC Public Affairs
Tel: 604.822.2234
Cell: 604.818.5685
E-mail: brian.lin@ubc.ca
Twitter: @brianlinUBC

Prof. Miriam Spering
UBC Dept. of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences
E-mail: miriam.spering@ubc.ca

Prevalence and characteristics of aggressive type of MS identified

Older men presenting with primary progressive multiple sclerosis may have a higher risk for developing an aggressive form of the disease, according to a new study led by researchers at the Brain Research Centre.

The study, published online June 6 in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, is one of the first to identify and describe patients with aggressive MS by means of three explicit, clearly defined, and unambiguous criteria that can be used by others.

“We identified between 4-14% of patients as having aggressive MS, depending on which definition we used,” says Suresh Menon, the study’s first author and a UBC postdoctoral fellow at the time of the study. “We also found that one in seven patients who developed MS before age 40 required assistance to walk by the time they reached 40 years old.”

Suresh Menon (left), Helen Tremlett (middle), and Tony Traboulsee (right)

Suresh Menon (left), Helen Tremlett (middle), and Tony Traboulsee (right)

Aggressive MS has a rapid disease course, leading to significant disability in multiple neurologic systems in a relatively short time after disease onset. There are typically three disease courses in MS—relapsing remitting, primary progressive, and secondary progressive. The classification of MS as aggressive or benign is largely based on the speed at which the disease progresses.

“While older men who were initially diagnosed with primary progressive MS may have higher odds of developing the aggressive form of the disease, we found that three out of every five patients with aggressive MS were actually younger women who were initially diagnosed with the relapsing remitting form,” says Helen Tremlett, the study’s senior author, an Associate Professor in the UBC Faculty of Medicine, and a member of the Brain Research Centre at UBC and VCH Research Institute. “This highlights the variability of MS in affecting a broad demographic.”

Previous studies have shown that MS is generally more prevalent in women than men, and the most common form of the disease at time of diagnosis is relapsing-remitting. Because the course of the disease is unpredictable, it is not uncommon for it to change over time.

“Very little is known about the prevalence or incidence of aggressive MS, despite it being the most challenging type to deal with,” says Tony Traboulsee, an Associate Professor in the UBC Faculty of Medicine, Head of the UBC Hospital MS and Neuromyelitis Optica Programs, and a member of the Brain Research Centre. “This study will help us in better understanding the treatment needs of patients with aggressive MS, as well as help to better inform the planning of future experimental clinical trials and other research studies.”

Research methodology:
The researchers accessed anonymized clinical data of 5891 patients with MS residing in British Columbia who visited a BC MS Clinic between 1980 and 2009. Using this data they developed three criteria for aggressive MS: 1. patients who reached an Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) score ≥ 6 within five years of MS onset; 2. patients who reached an EDSS score ≥ 6 by age 40; and 3. patients who reached secondary progressive MS within three years of a relapsing onset-course.

Disability in MS patients is measured by EDSS in eight functional systems, and provides a score between 0 and 10. A score of six means a walking aid is required. In this study, patients without an EDSS score were excluded.

Collaborators and co-authors:
Other members of the research team include Afsaneh Shirani (UBC and VCH); Yinshan Zhao (UBC); Joel Oger (UBC and VCH); and Mark Freedman (University of Ottawa).

Funding partners:
This research study was supported by a McDonald Fellowship Salary Award to Dr. Menon from the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation. Salary funding to support some of the researchers was provided by the MS Society of Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and the Canada Research Chairs program.

Prof. Tremlett is a Canada Research Chair in Neuroepidemiology and Multiple Sclerosis. Dr. Traboulsee is the MS Society of Canada Research Chair.

The Brain Research Centre comprises more than 225 investigators with multidisciplinary expertise in neuroscience research ranging from the test tube, to the bedside, to industrial spin-offs. The Centre is a partnership of the UBC Faculty of Medicine and VCHRI. www.brain.ubc.ca

The UBC Faculty of Medicine provides innovative programs in the health and life sciences, teaching students at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels, and generates more than $200 million in research funding each year. www.med.ubc.ca

Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI), a world leader in translational health research, is the research body of Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. VCHRI includes three of BC’s largest academic and teaching health sciences centres — Vancouver General Hospital, UBC Hospital, and GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre — as well as many other hospitals and public health agencies across Vancouver Coastal Health. VCHRI is academically affiliated with UBC Faculty of Medicine and is one of Canada’s top funded research centres receiving between $80-100 million in research funding annually. Over 1500 personnel are engaged in a variety of research centres, programs and evolving research areas. www.vchri.ca

 

New imaging technique holds promise for speeding MS research

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have developed a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique that detects the telltale signs of multiple sclerosis in finer detail than ever before – providing a more powerful tool for evaluating new treatments.

The technique analyzes the frequency of electro-magnetic waves collected by an MRI scanner, instead of the size of those waves. Although analyzing the number of waves per second had long been considered a more sensitive way of detecting changes in tissue structure, the math needed to create usable images had proved daunting.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) occurs when a person’s immune cells attack the protective insulation, known as myelin, that surrounds nerve fibres. The breakdown of myelin impedes the electrical signals transmitted between neurons, leading to a range of symptoms, including numbness or weakness, vision loss, tremors, dizziness and fatigue.

DSC_1625Alexander Rauscher, an assistant professor of radiology, and graduate student Vanessa Wiggermann in the UBC MRI Research Centre, analyzed the frequency of MRI brain scans. With Anthony Traboulsee, an associate professor of neurology and director of the UBC Hospital MS Clinic, they applied their method to 20 MS patients, who were scanned once a month for six months using both conventional MRI and the new frequency-based method.

Once scars in the myelin, known as lesions, appeared in conventional MRI scans, Rauscher and his colleagues went back to earlier frequency-based images of those patients. Looking in the precise areas of those lesions, they found frequency changes – indicating tissue damage – at least two months before any sign of damage appeared on conventional scans. The results were published in the June 12 issue of Neurology.

“This technique teases out the subtle differences in the development of MS lesions over time,” Rauscher says. “Because this technique is more sensitive to those changes, researchers could use much smaller studies to determine whether a treatment – such as a new drug – is slowing or even stopping the myelin breakdown.”

Professor Rauscher and Dr. Traboulsee are both members of the Brain Research Centre.

New software aids medical image interpretation

Making sense of medical images just got a lot easier thanks to new software developed by Rafeef Abugharbieh and Ghassan Hamarneh, both members of the Brain Research Centre.

ss1The software, called TurtleSeg, allows users to segment medical images such as magnetic resonance or CT scans faster and more accurately than existing software.

 “Most existing segmentation programs tend to fall at extremes,” says Dr. Abugharbieh, who is also an Associate Professor in the UBC Faculty of Applied Science. “They are usually either completely manual, requiring users to spend excessive amounts of time working on the images, which introduces higher likelihood of human variability and errors in interpretation, or they’re entirely automated, which is neither fully robust nor accurate.”

Medical scanning technologies capture three dimensional images of an organ or part of the body by way of stacking a number of two dimensional “flat” images. The final image is then similar to a stacked deck of cards. Collectively, these images provide doctors or researchers a snapshot of the state of an organ or part of the body.

Image segmentation is the process of identifying boundaries, edges, colours, and textures of objects within the images. It is an important process that allows doctors and researchers to more accurately interpret the images and visualize and quantify organ volume or shape in order to track disease progression or drug effects, plan surgical interventions, or design radiation therapy plans.

“What sets TurtleSeg apart from other programs is its Spotlight feature and its active learning capabilities,” says Dr. Hamarneh, who is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Applied Science at Simon Fraser University. “The Spotlight feature is similar to the ‘parking assist’ feature on many new cars, in that automated guidance is available to alert the user, but the user ultimately maintains final control.”

The TurtleSeg program will not only automatically segment a three dimensional image, but it will also highlight or “spotlight” areas suspected to be poorly identified by alerting the user to interactively help assess those areas. Once the user does, the program then uses the new user feedback to learn from the corrections made and automatically improve the segmentation. TurtleSeg and its Spotlight feature is currently patent pending.

A free version of TurtleSeg is available to download, and includes a one-year license. The software has already generated considerable international interest, having been downloaded more than a thousand times by companies, academic research labs, and hospitals throughout North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa. The software was developed in collaboration with Andrew Top, a computing science student in Dr. Hamarneh’s laboratory. Andrew won the Western Association of Graduate Schools and University Microfilms International Innovation in Technology Award for his contributions to developing the software.

Researchers who are interested in trying the software are encouraged to download it and contact Drs. Abugharbieh or Hamarneh with any questions.

Construction update on the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health

dmcbh2-200pxConstruction of the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health is transitioning to finishing stages. The building has permanent power, and the construction site trailers will be removed in mid-June in order to allow for the completion of external cladding installation, which includes bricks, metal, and window glazing. At that time, landscaping, including the planting of gardens around the building and installation of a water feature on the north side, as well as construction of the bridge connecting the third floor of the facility to the second floor of Koerner Pavilion, UBC Hospital, will commence. Short, minor traffic interruptions throughout the summer may be possible due to the construction of the bridge, but patient parking and access to UBC Hospital will not be affected. Interior finishing work is ongoing.

dmcbh1-200pxScheduled to open in the Fall/Winter 2013, the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health will unite both patient clinics and research in the areas of neuroscience, neurology, and psychiatry. It will bring together, for the first time under one roof, all the multidisciplinary areas of brain health, including the UBC Hospital Clinic for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, the Centre for Huntington’s Disease, the Mood Disorders Centre, the Movement Disorders Clinic, the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic, and research clinical trials.

The Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health is a partnership of the Brain Research Centre, UBC Faculty of Medicine, and Vancouver Coastal Health.

 

 

HRH The Duke of York visits UBC

HRH The Duke of York visits UBC

HRH The Duke of York (left), UBC President Stephen J. Toope (centre) and Djavad Mowafaghian (right) discuss the future brain health centre.

On Friday, May 17, the University of British Columbia and the Djavad Mowafaghian Foundation welcomed His Royal Highness The Duke of York, KG, to UBC’s Vancouver campus to dedicate the cornerstone of the new Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. The Duke of York also toured the existing Brain Research Centre to meet with students and learn about their work.

In 1983, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh opened the Imaging Research Centre which preceded the Brain Research Centre, a partner in the creation of the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health.

Cardio and weight training reduces access to health care in seniors

Forget apples – lifting weights and doing cardio can also keep the doctors away, according a new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.
 
The study, published today in the online journal PLOS ONE, followed 86 women, aged 70- to 80-years-old, who were randomly assigned to participate in weight training classes, outdoor walking classes, or balance and toning classes (such as yoga and pilates) for six months. All participants have mild cognitive impairment, a well-recognized risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
 
Jennifer Davis“We found that those who participated in the cardio or weight training program incurred fewer health care resources – such as doctor visits and lab tests – compared to those in the balance and toning program,” says Jennifer Davis, a postdoctoral fellow and lead author of the study.
 
The researchers tabulated the total costs incurred by each participant in accessing a variety of health care resources.
 
The study is the latest in a series of studies that assess the efficacy of different types of training programs on cognitive performance in elderly patients. An earlier study, published in February in the Journal of Aging Research, showed aerobic and weight training also improved cognitive performance in study participants. Those on balance and toning programs did not.
 
Teresa Liu-Ambrose“While balance and toning exercises are good elements of an overall health improvement program, you can’t ‘down-dog’ your way to better brain health,” says Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an Associate Professor in the UBC Faculty of Medicine and a member of the Brain Research Centre at UBC and VCH Research Institute. “The new study also shows that cardio and weight training are more cost-effective for the health care system.”
 
The new studies build on previous research by Prof. Liu-Ambrose, Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity, Mobility, Cognitive Neuroscience and a member of the Centre for Hip Health & Mobility, where she found that once- or twice-weekly weight training may help minimize cognitive decline and impaired mobility in seniors.
 
The weight training classes included weighted exercises targeting different muscle groups for a whole-body workout. The aerobic training classes were an outdoor walking program targeted to participants’ age-specific target heart rate. The balance and toning training classes were representative of exercise programs commonly available in the community such as Osteofit, yoga, or Tai Chi.
 
Other members of the research team include Stirling Bryan (UBC), Carlo Marra (UBC), Devika Sharma (UBC), Alison Chan (UBC), Lynn Beattie (UBC, VCH, and Brain Research Centre), and Peter Graf (UBC and Brain Research Centre).
 
This study was supported by a grant from the Pacific Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. Teresa Liu-Ambrose and Jennifer Davis are also supported by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research. Prof. Liu-Ambrose is also supported by the Canada Research Chairs program.
 
The Brain Research Centre comprises more than 225 investigators with multidisciplinary expertise in neuroscience research ranging from the test tube, to the bedside, to industrial spin-offs. The Centre is a partnership of the UBC Faculty of Medicine and VCHRI. www.brain.ubc.ca 
 
The UBC Faculty of Medicine provides innovative programs in the health and life sciences, teaching students at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels, and generates more than $200 million in research funding each year. www.med.ubc.ca.
 
Vancouver Coastal Health provides a full range of health care services, ranging from hospital treatment to community-based residential, home health, mental health and public health services, to residents of Vancouver, North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Richmond, and in the coastal mountain communities. VCH Research Institute is the research body of Vancouver Coastal Health. In academic partnership with the University of British Columbia, VCHRI brings innovation and discovery to patient care. www.vch.ca.
 

Construction update on the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health

dmcbh_wesbrook-march2013dmcbh_roof-march2013The entire building structure is now complete, including the roof structure. The interior finishing work is underway, and drywall has been installed in approximately one third of the building. The external cladding, which includes bricks, metal, and window glazing is also being installed. Permanent power should be available by the end of April. When complete in late spring, the artistic external window covering—geometric shapes patterned into a series of connected brain cells—will span the windows on the north side of the building. The construction of the bridge connecting the third level of the new building to the second floor of Koerner Pavilion will commence in the summer.

Scheduled to open in the Fall/Winter 2013, the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health will unite both patient clinics and research in the areas of neuroscience, neurology, and psychiatry. It will bring together, for the first time under one roof, all the multidisciplinary areas of brain health, including the UBC Hospital Clinic for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, the Centre for Huntington’s Disease, the Mood Disorders Centre, the Movement Disorders Clinic, the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic, and research clinical trials.

The Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health is a partnership of the Brain Research Centre, UBC Faculty of Medicine, and Vancouver Coastal Health.

Immune-based therapy for Alzheimer’s moves closer to development

A made-in-Canada treatment for Alzheimer’s disease could be closer to patients thanks to a new technology developed by a Faculty of Medicine neuroscientist, Neil Cashman.

Neil Cashman

Neil Cashman

Dr. Cashman, Professor in the Division of Neurology, has developed an immune-based treatment that targets the toxic form of amyloid-beta, a protein that forms tiny fibers, called plaques, in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers.

To date, therapies have been developed that target the plaques. More recent research has shown that a specific form of this protein, which exists prior to their formation into plaques, that actually attacks the brain and causes Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Cashman, a member of the Brain Research Centre of UBC and Vancouver Coastal Health, has discovered a novel way of identifying this short-lived, highly-toxic form of the protein (known as the abeta oligomer) and has produced antibodies that specifically attach to it. This has several advantages in treating Alzheimer’s: it may provide a very effective early diagnostic for the disease, it allows for the development of a therapy to stop the disease’s progression, and ultimately it could lead to the development of a preventative vaccine.

The discoveries made by Dr. Cashman were supported by research funding through CIHR and further advanced through a research collaboration involving UBC, VCHRI, the federally-funded PrioNet Canada Networks of Centres of Excellence and Cangene, one of the nation’s oldest and largest biopharmaceutical companies. Following this collaboration, Cangene licensed the discovery.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Cashman who is an expert in misfolded protein diseases and help advance his ground-breaking research in Alzheimer’s Disease” says Dr. Laura Saward, Cangene’s Chief Scientific Officer. “While this work is in its early stages, it is showing promise for the development of a novel immunotherapy to address this devastating disease and fits Cangene’s refocused R&D strategy.”

“This is an all-Canadian solution in terms of its discovery, development and advancement towards the clinic,” says J.P. Heale, Associate Director of UBC’s University-Industry Liaison Office. “The partnerships developed to advance Dr. Cashman’s outstanding research are an excellent example of how Canadian universities, funding agencies and industry partners can work together to tackle a devastating disease of national and global importance.”

Concussions in teenagers more damaging and last longer than previously known

 

Adolescent athletes who experience concussions exhibit changes in their brain for a longer period of time than was previously known, according to new research by Naznin Virji-Babul and Lara Boyd, both members of the Brain Research Centre at UBC and Vancouver Coastal Health.

The results were published in the January edition of the journal Pediatric Neurology.

Lara Boyd (left) and Naznin Virji-Babul (right)

Lara Boyd (L) and Naznin Virji-Babul (R)

Using a clinical assessment tool and brain imaging, the researchers compared brain white matter structures in 12 adolescents aged 14 to 17 years old who had experienced at least one sports-related concussion in the past two months with 10 otherwise healthy, non-concussed adolescent athletes.

White matter is a type of brain tissue that has a light appearance due to its containing myelin, the fatty coating around axons. Brain cells are composed of a cell body and an axon, a long wire-like tail which conducts electrical messages to other brain cells.

“The imaging results showed that the integrity of white matter in the brain was significantly different between the concussed and non-concussed teenagers,” says Professor Virji-Babul, who is also an Assistant Professor in the UBC Faculty of Medicine and a scientist at the Child & Family Research Institute. “In addition, these changes were strongly associated with the results obtained using a sideline concussion assessment tool.”

The tool, called the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool 2, is often used at the playing field and in clinical settings to determine the level of brain injury based on a combination of scores from a 22 post-concussion symptom scale. Diffusion Tensor Imaging, a type of magnetic resonance imaging, images the movement of water through the brain, which can be affected by brain structure changes from even the mildest of concussions.

The researchers showed that processes and changes in brain microstructure related to an injury persist well beyond the initial event, and this damage may not be noticed or picked up without brain imaging. This leaves open the possibility that concussed adolescent athletes could be returning to sport activity before their brain injury has fully healed.

“Our research has immediate impact on return-to-play decisions made by physicians and medical personnel, coaches, parents, and the athletes themselves,” says Professor Lara Boyd, who also holds a Canada Research Chair in the Neurobiology of Motor Learning. “Age-specific diagnostic guidelines that are applied consistently across the disciplines of neurology, physical medicine, rehabilitation, and sports medicine are needed.”

Nearly one in four people who experienced a concussion between 2009 and 2010 were adolescents, though that number may be higher because the injuries may not have be reported or were treated outside a hospital emergency room. Concussions are especially concerning in children and adolescents because their brains are still developing and may be more susceptible to damage or take longer to fully recover.

The researchers are planning future studies to assess the impact of brain injury on function, in order to understand the risks of returning to play and sustaining additional concussions, as well as developing improved clinical practice guidelines in physicians’ management of sport concussion, including return-to-play decisions.

This study was supported by the Martha Piper Research Fund, the Brain Research Centre, and the University of British Columbia. Analysis of the brain scan images was completed by Michael Borich, a postdoctoral fellow with Professor Boyd.

The Brain Research Centre comprises more than 225 investigators with multidisciplinary expertise in neuroscience research ranging from the test tube, to the bedside, to industrial spin-offs. The Centre is a partnership of the UBC Faculty of Medicine and VCH Research Institute. For more information, visit www.brain.ubc.ca.

The Child & Family Research Institute (CFRI) conducts discovery, translational and clinical research to benefit the health of children and their families. CFRI is supported by BC Children’s Hospital Foundation and works in close partnership with the University of British Columbia, BC Children’s Hospital, and BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre (agencies of the Provincial Health Services Authority). For more information, visit www.cfri.ca.

Knowledge translation efforts in stroke care, management, and education are saving lives

Improving outcomes for stroke patients is a priority for Devin Harris, a member of the Brain Research Centre and an emergency physician at St. Paul’s Hospital. It’s one of the reasons he’s returned to graduate school to complete a PhD in the School of Population and Public Health at UBC. Already turning emergency room management of stroke and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) on its head around the province, he’s now poised to do the same for medical education across Canada.

Stroke is the leading cause of acquired long-term disability in adults in British Columbia. In 2008/2009 alone there were 4,526 patients in the province who experienced an incident stroke that was severe enough to require hospitalization, and of those patients, 36% died within a year. This makes stroke the third leading cause of death in the province.

Devin Harris“Like many medical conditions, the treatment of stroke and TIA has changed dramatically over years,” says Dr. Harris. “We need to make sure not only do our medical schools include adequate education and training in stroke care and management, but that practicing physicians and healthcare workers are being informed as well.”

As Clinical Leader of the Stroke and TIA Collaborative, an initiative of the BC Patient Safety and Quality Council, he’s providing resources and information, including Canadian best practice guidelines, videos, and educational events, to emergency room healthcare practitioners around the province to help them improve the care of stroke and TIA within their hospital’s emergency department. Already, positive outcomes have been achieved in hospitals around BC, including the building of a TIA clinic at East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook to provide timely stroke care on-site, where previously patients would have been transferred to a hospital in Calgary; the reduction in time for stroke patients to receive a CT scan at Victoria General Hospital; and efficiency improvements in care at Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace.

With funding from the UBC Department of Emergency Medicine, he’s helped position the province as a leader in research and effective knowledge translation of best practices in emergency department management of stroke and TIA. To date, he has been instrumental in developing a stroke registry for BC, evaluating stroke and TIA care in emergency departments around the province, and leading provincial quality improvement initiatives.

In October 2012 he presented research results at the Canadian Stroke Congress leading to recommendations that emergency physicians should receive supplementary training in stroke. In the study, he found that only three of 20 emergency medicine residency programs in Canada had obligatory on-the-job training in general neurology. He also found that less than 2% of lecture time per year was devoted to stroke, in spite of the fact that people with stroke account for 5% of all emergency room patients.

“Since nearly all stroke patients taken to hospital are first seen in emergency departments, and that stroke care management is extremely time-sensitive, it is imperative that emergency department physicians implement up-to-date best care practices,” says Dr. Harris.

Having returned to the School of Population and Public Health at UBC in 2005 to complete a PhD on the evaluation of best practices in the management of patients with TIA and stroke, he is now on the cusp of graduating and remains even more determined to change medical practices. 

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