Latimer: Brain research projects offer exciting opportunities

More than $51 million of Health Canada money will be used to help researchers learn more about the way the brain and nervous system works.

It was with excitement that I read the recent news release put out by Health Canada announcing new funding for 32 brain research projects taking place across the country.

More than $51 million will be used to help researchers learn more about the way the brain and nervous system works as well as to increase knowledge and treatment options surrounding all types of neurological and mental health disorders.

Funding is taking place under the Canada Brain Research Fund, where the federal government matches money provided by donors, research institutions, provincial funding agencies and charitable organizations.

Research will take place in seven cities across Canada including Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Montreal and Quebec City and several of the funded projects will focus on age-related neurodegeneration such as Alzheimer’s disease.

New money for brain research is important so that we can continue to move forward in our understanding of this very complicated side of human health.

The brain is responsible for so much of a person’s physical and mental health as well as aspects of the personality and yet we still understand relatively little about the causes and mechanisms of most mental disorders.

As we learn more about exactly what areas of the brain are involved in each condition and how different parts of the nervous system interact, we are able to work toward prevention as well as much more specific treatment of many debilitating conditions.

For example, depression and anxiety are extremely common conditions affecting roughly one in five people at some point during their life.

Depression has been named the third most important cause of disease burden worldwide by the World Health Organization—and yet almost half of people treated with the most common antidepressant medications do not experience optimal results.

Alzheimer’s is quickly on the rise in our aging population.

In 2011, it affected more than 700,000 Canadian seniors and that number is expected to hit 1.4 million by 2031 if cases continue to climb at the current rate.

In spite of this, we still do not have a proven treatment that can stop or even significantly slow the progression of this devastating disease.

What’s worse, we don’t know exactly why people develop Alzheimer’s or what steps we might be able to take to prevent it.

Of course the pharmaceutical companies continue working to find effective treatments for many neurological and mental disorders. However, these companies are driven by profitability and are looking specifically at treatments rather than simple knowledge expansion.

This is inherently limiting. We need to properly fund academic research in order to take the big strides forward that are needed.

I applaud any efforts by government to improve funding for health research and I hope to see more of this in the future.