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Season 2 Episode 1 – Is Stress Contagious?

Release Date: March 21, 2023 |  Run Time: 44:45 |  Download the transcript

In a world that appears to be becoming more and more divisive, there's one thing we can all agree on. As a society, we are stressed out. Whether it's financial pressures, family or work obligations, or even just finding time for yourself in a never-ending tornado of to do lists, stress is everywhere and it's not going away.

We often talk about the physiology of stress, how it affects us physically and mentally, but in this episode of Your Complex Brain, we delve much deeper to talk about the science of stress - what's actually happening in our brain and our body when the stress response is activated, and how these insights could lead to new approaches and therapies for treating disease.

In this episode, internationally renowned neuroscientist, Dr. Jaideep Bains, discusses his innovative research looking at how the brain processes, activates and adapts to stress, and why some people appear to be more resilient than others, when it comes to dealing with stress. "It's one of those questions that comes down to some nature and some nurture," says Dr. Bains. "But there's a really rich literature that shows early life experiences can really set the stage for how you respond to stress later in life, and how you face challenges."

We'll also hear from clinical psychologist Dr. Kathryn Curtis about the power of mindfulness and mindful breathing. "Even if we can do just a few minutes of mindful breathing in a day, we have the opportunity to change what's happening in our mind and our body to improve our well-being, cultivate a sense of vitality and actually gain greater perspective."

Farrah Schwartz, UHN's Manager of Patient Education and Engagement, talks about dealing with stress and burnout during the pandemic, and why she feels passionate about sharing her experience with others. "Stress is very normal and often looks different than you expect it to, but it's something that we all have to live with," says Farrah. "I hope my story can help someone else."

Listen to the full episode and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and everywhere else you get your podcasts.

Listen to the full episode and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and everywhere else you get your podcasts.


Dr. Jaideep Bains

Dr. Jaideep Bains is Director of the Krembil Research Institute and a Senior Scientist with the Krembil Brain Institute, at UHN. Dr. Bains is an internationally recognized expert in brain research; for the past two decades, he has led a successful research team at the University of Calgary, making many important discoveries that have provided insights into how the brain adapts to stress. These studies have shed light on links between neurotransmission, synaptic plasticity and brain network states with important behavioural and physiological responses in different models of stress. In his spare time, Dr. Bains enjoys watching basketball (especially the Toronto Raptors!) and spending time with his family.

Dr. Kathryn Curtis

Dr. Kathryn Curtis is a clinical psychologist at the Comprehensive Integrated Pain Program at UHN, where she provides psychological services to individuals living with chronic pain. Dr. Curtis' research evaluates mind-body interventions, such as yoga and mindfulness, for populations experiencing chronic pain and mobility restrictions. She is a long-term student of eastern philosophy, meditation, and Vedic studies at Vidya Institute and integrating these eastern teachings into her clinical and research work is a passion of hers. In her spare time, Dr. Curtis enjoys spending time in nature with her family.

Farrah Schwartz

Farrah Schwartz is the Manager of Patient Education and Engagement, at UHN. Farrah has worked in the patient education field for more than 15 years and regularly teaches and presents on the impact of health literacy on health outcomes and experience. She has helped lead provincial and national efforts to address health literacy and patient engagement, including being the co-founder and moderator of the Canadian Health Literacy and Patient Education Network. Farrah is also a mother and household manager. After 15 years as a mother, she still learns new things most days, and feels it is vitally important to talk about the challenges of parenting openly to build support and reduce the stigma of mother/parent burnout and stress.

Bonus Content: Listen to an original 5-minute 'Breathing Space' practice created by Dr. Curtis for listeners of Your Complex Brain.


Dr. Kathryn Curtis | Run Time: 06:01 |  Download the transcript

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Season 2 Episode 2 – A New Era in Women's Brain Health: Closing the Gap in Delayed Diagnosis

Release Date: April 4, 2023 |  Run Time: 47:58 |  Download the transcript

Though women make up nearly half of the world's population and have higher rates of neurological disorders, there is still a gap when it comes to better understanding and treating women living with brain-related illnesses.

Brain diseases such as epilepsy, stroke, Parkinson's and dementia, as well as many other neurological conditions, affect women differently at various stages of their lives - from puberty to pregnancy to menopause. Many women also face systemic barriers and biases when they seek help, often leading to a delay in diagnosis and treatment.

We'll speak with Dr. Mary Angela O'Neal, Director of the Women's Neurology program at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and assistant professor of neurology at Harvard University and Dr. Esther Bui, a neurologist and clinician educator at UHN's Krembil Brain Institute, in Toronto. Dr. Bui is also an assistant professor at the University of Toronto and the founder of Canada's only women's neurology clinic.

"I'm usually the third, fourth or fifth neurologist that a patient has seen," says Dr. Bui. "When they do seek care, just recognizing that this patient in front of you has gone to extraordinary lengths to be there and prioritize their wellness, is not to be dismissed."

"I hear it a lot, that patients will feel like they've not been listened to, and I think it's really important to hear what the patient's story is and support them to get better," adds Dr. O'Neal. "The more we explore, the more we understand that there's a huge gap in need."

We'll also hear from Nikki Ashworth about her experience living with temporal lobe epilepsy, and Roshan Malhan, a medical student who comments on the benefits of learning from patients directly, about their experience.

Listen to the full episode and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and everywhere else you get your podcasts.


Bonus Content: Listen to more of Nikki's incredible story.


Nikki Ashworth | Run Time: 18:42 |  Download the transcript

Dr. Esther Bui

Dr. Esther Bui is a neurologist and clinician educator at UHN's Krembil Brain Institute, and an assistant professor at the University of Toronto. Her education research includes a real-time assessment tool of opportunistic teaching (myTE) and imposter syndrome in medical education, as well as the creation of Canada's first accredited Women's Neurology Clinic and training program. Dr. Bui has trained physicians across Canada and the US and tirelessly advocates for women's issues to be front & centre in their neurological care. Find her on Twitter at @womensneurology.

Dr. Mary Angela O'Neal

Dr. Mary Angela O'Neal is the Director of the Women's Neurology program at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard University. She's written multiple papers on Women's Neurology and has edited several books including: the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Continuum edition of "Neurological Illness in Pregnancy" and "Women's Neurology - What Do I Do Now?" Dr. O'Neal also directs a Harvard Medical School course in Women's Neurology and Psychiatry and for many years directed the Neurology of Pregnancy course at the American Academy of Neurology.

Nikki Ashworth

Nikki Ashworth has been living with temporal lobe epilepsy, in which she is awake and aware during her seizures, ever since she was a child. But, she was only diagnosed in her 30s. A self-described guinea pig fanatic & part-time sculptor, Nikki has found a new passion in life: unintentional comedy. Her seizures may come without warning, but she's been turning her experience into an art form with her dark and honest observations. Find Nikki on Instagram at @strange_miss.

Roshan Malhan

Roshan Malhan is currently a second year medical student at the University of Toronto's Temerty Faculty of Medicine, where he acts as a co-director for the Anesthesia Interest Group and Emergency Medicine Interest Group. He is currently exploring his interests in a number of medical specialties and looking forward to gaining additional insights during clerkship. In his spare time, Roshan enjoys learning to code, watching the Raptors, and spending time with his friends and family.

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Season 2 Episode 3 – The Future of DBS

Release Date: April 18, 2023 |  Run Time: 48:31 |  Download the transcript

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is complex brain surgery in which electrodes are placed at strategic, predetermined targets within a patient's brain. The electrodes are then connected to a battery pack which is surgically inserted under the skin of the chest, like a pacemaker.

When DBS was first introduced as a treatment option for people living with Parkinson's disease more than 20 years ago, it was a game changer.

"After having done this operation, hundreds and hundreds of times, that moment that you turn on the simulator and you see a tremor disappear or Parkinson's symptoms improve to five or ten years ago in an instant, never grows tiring for me," says Dr. Suneil Kalia.

"I saw my first DBS patient when I was 20 years old. The patient went from having Parkinson symptoms to having no symptoms after DBS, and that was mind blowing," Dr. Alfonso Fasano recalls. "Twenty-five years later, I'm doing what I saw in that room on a regular basis."

In this episode of Your Complex Brain, we'll speak with Krembil Brain Institute neurosurgeon, Dr. Suneil Kalia, and neurologist, Dr. Alfonso Fasano, about the future of DBS – including major advances in technology, and how DBS could be used to help many more patients improve their quality of life, including those living with other neurological diseases.

We'll also hear from CBC journalist Harry Forestell about how Parkinson's changed his life and his experience having DBS surgery.

Listen to the full episode and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and everywhere else you get your podcasts.


Bonus Content: Listen to more of Harry Forestell's DBS journey.


Harry Forestell | Run Time: 13:45 |  Download the transcript

Dr. Suneil Kalia

Dr. Suneil Kalia is Neurosurgeon & Senior Scientist at the Krembil Brain Institute & Associate Professor in the Division of Neurosurgery, Department of Surgery, University of Toronto. As a stereotactic and functional neurosurgeon, Dr. Kalia focuses on the surgical management of movement disorders, epilepsy and pain. He holds the R.R. Tasker Chair in Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery.

Dr. Alfonso Fasano

Dr. Alfonso Fasano is Neurologist & Clinician Investigator with the Edmond J. Safra Program in Parkinson's Disease, Morton and Gloria Shulman Movement Disorders Clinic, at the Krembil Brain Institute (Toronto Western Hospital). Dr. Fasano is a Professor of Medicine, Department of Neurology, at the University of Toronto. He holds the Chair in Neuromodulation at UHN.

Harry Forestell

Harry Forestell is a long-time CBC journalist who has reported on some of the biggest stories of our time, and is the current host of CBC News New Brunswick at 6. At the age of 53, Harry was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and subsequently had DBS surgery. Harry is first and foremost a family man; he is married to Jennifer and they have two beautiful daughters. Find Harry on Twitter @harryforestell.

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Season 2 Episode 4 - A New Theory of Alzheimer's

Release Date: May 2, 2023 |  Run Time: 50:18 |  Download the transcript

Whether as a patient, a caregiver, a neighbour or a friend, chances are, one day, we will all be touched by Alzheimer's or dementia.

This disease steals our memories and cruelly robs us of our loved ones, often when we need them the most. "What life is like without my mom?" asks Lindsay Bongard-Batori. "I just wish she could see it, because it's hard without her. I just feel like so much has gone on and she's missed a lot."

But, there is hope and momentum in the world of Alzheimer's research. In the past two years alone, we've seen the development of new drugs and even a blood test to diagnose the disease. Researchers are also starting to think differently about the origins of Alzheimer's. In fact, a new theory suggests that it may not just be a brain disease.

"We believe that Alzheimer's may be an autoimmune disorder in your brain," says Dr. Weaver. "And if that's the case, there are new approaches and avenues that we haven't yet considered." He adds: "Right now in our lab, it's all in on this theory."

In this episode of Your Complex Brain, we speak with Dr. Donald Weaver, neurologist, medicinal chemist & Senior Scientist at the Krembil Brain Institute and Dr. Saskia Sivananthan, Chief Knowledge and Translation Officer at the Alzheimer Society of Canada. We'll also hear from Lindsay Bongard-Batori, who lost her mother Barbara to Alzheimer's.

Listen to the full episode and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and everywhere else you get your podcasts.


Bonus Content: Listen to more of Lindsay's story and memories of her mother Barbara.


Lindsay Bongard-Batori | Run Time: 17:55 |  Download the transcript

Dr. Donald Weaver

Dr. Donald Weaver is a neurologist, medicinal chemist & Senior Scientist with the Krembil Brain Institute at UHN. He has designed and co-developed two drugs that have reached Phase III human trials and has four others in preclinical development; one of these drugs (tramiprosate) was one of the first "disease-modifying" drugs in the world to reach Phase III clinical trials for Alzheimer's. Dr. Weaver has received numerous awards, including the 2020 Harrington Scholar-Innovator Award, and the 2022 Oskar Fischer Prize for his pioneering work in Alzheimer's research.

Dr. Saskia Sivananthan

Dr. Saskia Sivananthan is a neuroscientist and the Chief Science and Knowledge Translation Officer at the Alzheimer Society of Canada, overseeing the Alzheimer Society Research Program, a dementia research priority setting leader. In 2020, she was appointed by the Federal Minister of Health to the ministerial advisory board on dementia. Previously, Dr. Sivananthan served as a senior strategy and policy advisor consulting for the World Health Organization (WHO) on its global dementia strategy. She co-drafted the WHO's Global Action Plan on the Public Health Response to Dementia.

Lindsay Bongard-Batori

Lindsay Bongard-Batori is a classroom instructor for the charity Project Giveback, a program to help elementary students develop empathy, build character and ignite community-minded citizens, as well as a wife, and mom to two daughters (and one dog!). Lindsay lost her beloved mother Barbara in 2020 and hopes her story will help others caring for their loved ones with Alzheimer's.

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Season 2 Episode 5 - Using Virtual Reality to Restore Vision

Release Date: May 16, 2023 |  Run Time: 45:59 |  Download the transcript

What happens when a vision researcher has a chance meeting with a pediatric oncologist and that collaboration leads to unexpected and promising results?

In Episode 5 of Your Complex Brain, we're talking about a homegrown vision rehabilitation program helping young brain cancer survivors, whose sight has been impacted by their tumours, improve their vision.

The program, developed at University Health Network in Toronto, uses virtual reality to effectively retrain parts of the brain, allowing them to better perceive objects and obstacles.

Joining us on the podcast today is neurobiologist, Dr. Michael Reber, and pediatric oncologist, Dr. Eric Bouffet.

"This technology was developed to try to help individuals with vision loss, and in particular, visual field loss, to re-train the brain to use what's left of the remaining healthy vision," says Dr. Reber.

"We started with two former patients of mine, including one I met when he was seven years old and he's now 28," says Dr. Bouffet. "And the improvement was spectacular."

We'll also hear from 18 year-old Jack Conway, one of the research participants in the study.

"I think it's incredible that vision can be restored using technology, as opposed to procedures and surgeries," says Jack. "The fact that you can just pull up a program on a device and then that program will actually improve your quality of life is remarkable to me."

Listen to the full episode and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and everywhere else you get your podcasts.

Bonus Content: Listen to more of Jack's story and how his vision improved during the study.

Jack Conway | Run Time: 10:11 |  Download the transcript

Dr. Michael Reber

Dr. Michael Reber is a Senior Scientist at the Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute, part of the Krembil Research Institute, at University Health Network, and Associate Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences at the University of Toronto. Dr. Reber has received multiple awards for his pioneering work in the understanding and modelling of the visual system connectivity in the brain, including the Milestone in Developmental Biology collection from the journal, Nature, in 2010.

Dr. Eric Bouffet

Dr. Eric Bouffet is the past director of the Pediatric Neuro-Oncology program at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and the first Garron Family Chair in Childhood Cancer Research. His research interests are in the area of novel treatments and clinical trials in children with brain tumours, and implementation of neuro-oncology programs in countries with limited resources. He is author or co-author of over 600 peer-reviewed manuscripts and author/co-author on numerous book chapters in the field of neuro-oncology. Dr. Bouffet is also an avid tri-athlete, who competes with Dr. Reber!

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Season 2 Episode 6 - The Mystery of our Memory

Release Date: May 30, 2023 |  Run Time: 50:25 |  Download the transcript

When you think about your favourite memories, what comes to mind?

Is it the championship win at your high school football game? Your child's first words? Or the lyrics to a song you loved?

In Episode 6 of Your Complex Brain, our experts tackle the big & thought-provoking questions, such as: How does our brain log & store memories? Where do memories go as we age? And why do we remember some things and not others?

The episode features neuropsychologists Dr. Mary Pat McAndrews and Dr. David Gold, as well as Dr. Samantha Audrain, a Postdoctoral fellow & trainee graduate from Dr. McAndrews' lab.

"Memories are really kind of the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves," says Dr. McAndrews. "They are how we encode and retrieve all the things that have happened to us in our lives. That allows us to revisit our past, to plan for the future and solve real problems in the present."

We also discuss whether there are any proven methods or tactics to help improve memory.

"When we look at large-scale studies, we know that things like exercise, good nutrition, wellness activities, those things are associated with better cognitive functioning overall and healthier aging as well as improvements on some of these areas like memory," says Dr. Gold.

Listen to the full episode and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and everywhere else you get your podcasts.

Listen to the full episode and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and everywhere else you get your podcasts.

Dr. Mary Pat McAndrews

Dr. Mary Pat McAndrews is a clinical neuropsychologist and senior scientist at the Krembil Brain Institute. She is also Division Head of Clinical and Computational Neuroscience at UHN. Dr. McAndrews' work focuses on investigating memory and language in patients with memory disorders, including epilepsy and Alzheimer's disease. She also enjoys traveling and once took a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings in Egypt!

Dr. David Gold

Dr. David Gold is a neuropsychologist and clinician investigator with the Krembil Brain Institute. Dr. Gold primarily works with patients living with epilepsy and also regularly consults with UHN's Memory and Neurosurgery clinics, as well as the Canadian Concussion Centre. In his free time, he enjoys reading, sports, ukulele and trying to make his newborn son giggle.

Dr. Samantha Audrain

Dr. Samantha Audrain is a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health, and a former graduate student of the University of Toronto, and UHN. Dr. Audrain's research focuses on understanding how long-term memories are formed and stored in the brain, and how that process is disrupted in patients experiencing memory dysfunction. She is also an artist, and enjoys painting in her spare time.

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