U of T's Brainstorm in the UK

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Faculty of Medicine Dean Catharine Whiteside and researchers and delegates from the University of Toronto gathered with colleagues, community members and alumni in London, England recently.

The occasion? A chance to discuss the Faculty’s contributions to brain health and the global economy through innovations in education and research. Called “Brainstorm,” the event drew participants from the University of Cambridge as well as Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, who joined together discuss global challenges in brain research.

“To leap forward in applying new knowledge to improve brain health, no single institution can tackle these challenges alone,” said Whiteside. “We must create the opportunities for our faculty and students in each of our institutions to work with colleagues around the world.”

Among the participants were the chief executive officer of the UK’s Royal Mail Group, Moya Greene, University Chancellor Michael Wilson and Mats Sundin, who has joined with the Faculty to promote advanced training in developmental health. 

“One of the specific areas I’m interested in at the moment is the connection between brain injury and mental health,” said Sundin. “We need to better understand not just the science of brain injury, but also the psychological and mental health effects of brain trauma. And by better understanding that, I hope, we’ll also create strategies that lead to prevention.”

A recent study of EU member countries compiled by the McGovern Institute at MIT estimated the total cost of brain disorders to be €798 billion, of which 60 per cent was attributable to direct costs and 40 per cent to lost productivity. Some figures put the total economic cost – measured in terms of lost productivity and workdays – and direct patient care – at double the cost of cancer.

“The need for biomedical research in neurodegenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons disease is acute, pressing and global. That is why research in these areas are among our top priorities in our Tanz Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases and our Toronto Dementia Research Alliance,” said Whiteside. “In fact, Peter St George Hyslop, the Director of the Tanz Centre, spends part of his time at the University of Cambridge working with world-class researchers to identify the molecular origins of dementia.” 

In addition to the Tanz Centre, the Department of Psychiatry at U of T is working on unlocking the genetic and environment factors causing mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia, autism and depression. As well, the Fraser Mustard Institute for Human Development is pioneering research in early cognitive development and brain health in the first 2000 days of life.

Together with Karolinskta Institutet colleagues, UofT researchers are looking at how brain health is affected in the earliest days of fetal and early child development by exposures to maternal stress, environmental toxins and nutritional deficiencies.

“Our goal is to improve the brain health of people of all ages through new diagnostics and early therapeutic interventions that will reduce the burden of disease and reduce this incredible cost on human life and the economy,” said Whiteside. “Working with international partners to integrate, innovate and enable global impact on improving the brain health of individuals and populations. That’s our ‘Brainstorm.’” 

Posted Friday, April 11, 2014

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