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Dr. Trevor Pugh, a Senior Scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and Director, Genomics, at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, is leading a $5-million project through Health Canada to advance brain research with the potential to benefit Canadians who suffer from brain diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and epilepsy.
Dr. Pugh's "Brain Single Cell Initiative" will help develop a Canadian national core facility dedicated to making single-cell genomics technologies available to brain researchers.
The funds – announced Friday, April 28 at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre – come from Health Canada's Canada Brain Research Fund and Brain Canada, money that was matched by sponsors, donors and partners.
The project has the potential to improve the health outcomes of Canadians by advancing our knowledge of the brain and promoting a better understanding of how diseases develop within cells and how the brain repairs itself.
"Healthy cells are all alike. Unhealthy cells are all different in their own way. And, now we have the technology to tell the difference," Dr. Pugh told the audience.
Dr. Pugh said this “important investment" will allow him, and project co-leads Drs. Gary Bader and Troy Ketela, to “support scientists from across Canada in the generation and computational analysis of data from single brain cells.
"The opportunity here is to integrate different approaches to understanding the brain, from neurodevelopment to cancer. This investment is timely as data sharing enables us to take lessons learned from one domain to make progress in another."
Members of Parliament Jean Yip (Scarborough-Agincourt) and Julie Dzerowicz (Davenport) made the announcement on behalf of Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.
"Supporting the neuroscience community and brain research plays a critical role in increasing our understanding of brain health conditions," the Honourable Minister Duclos said in a news release. "By investing in projects like these, we are supporting innovation in neuro-technology leading to advancements in brain health in Canada to improve health outcomes for patients."
"We depend on the support of our funders, such as Brain Canada, and our academic, industry and community partners around the world," Dr. Brad Wouters, UHN's Executive Vice President of Science and Research, told the audience.
"Through this new funding we can build new partnerships and strengthen existing ones to promote a better understanding of the underlying nature of brain disease at the single cell level."
Dr. Viviane Poupon, Brain Canada's President and Chief Executive Officer, said platform funding programs such as this one “play a crucial role in enabling innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration in Canada and on an international level.
"This is part of what makes Brain Canada an essential component of the brain research ecosystem in this country, we enable transformative platforms, which are essential to addressing the evolving needs of research," Dr. Poupon said.
The funding is part of a $200-million federal government investment to Brain Canada in support of brain health discoveries. In addition to the commitment to Dr. Pugh's project, the MPs also announced on April 28 an investment in the CanStroke Recovery Trials of Dr. Sean Dukelow at the University of Calgary.
Read more about the Health Canada announcement.
There are more than 1,000 brain diseases and disorders: Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy and brain cancer, to name a few. Together, they represent one of the most pressing health challenges in Canada and across the world.
Dr. Keith Stewart, Vice President Cancer, UHN, and Director of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, said Dr. Pugh's project helps lay the groundwork to expand access to novel cancer treatments, advanced technologies and early supportive care, and ultimately helps to provide earlier and more equitable care.
Neurosurgeon Dr. Gelareh Zadeh, Senior Scientist at the Princess Margaret and Co-Director of UHN's Krembil Brain Institute, said investments such as this “allow us to take all of our discoveries to the next level.
"This is a huge opportunity for us to take advantage of the funding, the rich environment that we're in and bring together multiple different specialists and strengths to really learn from each other," said Dr. Zadeh, who is also the Dan Family Chair and Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Toronto.