Neuroscience goes national, $10M grant

A $10M grant from the Canada Brain Research Fund in support of a new partnership to link Canada’s neuroscience researchers through a shared, interoperable neuroinformatics platform was announced today by Health Canada and Brain Canada. The inaugural meeting of the Canadian Open Neuroscience Platform (CONP) collaboration also began its first meeting.

A long-time proponent of shared neuroinformatics platform, the Ludmer Centre is a funding partner in the initiative. Ludmer Centre Scientific Director Dr Alan Evans is the CONP Scientific Director and his neuroinformatics infrastructure, the LORIS/CBRAIN platform, will be a key component of the national infrastructure.

Neuroinformatics – The Engine Behind Brain Research

Neuroinformatics, the application of a big-data approach to neuroscience, includes the collection of data encompassing all levels of the nervous system, from molecules to behavior, and the development of databases, standards, tools and models as well as simulations and analytical techniques. It moves beyond traditional bioinformatics[1] to enable more diverse types of neuroscience research by linking disparate multimodal datasets (e.g., imaging, genetics, epigenetics, behavioral, etc.) for unprecedented insights into normal brain development and disorders — mental illnesses from autism spectrum, attention deficit, anxiety, bi-polar, depression and schizophrenia to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia.

New data-acquisition technologies and burgeoning neuroinformatics capacities now allow researchers to amass and process unprecedented quantities of data to study the living brain as never before. Multiple market studies also identify neuroinformatics as a key business-development growth sector that is projected to revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative disorders and mental illnesses.

MCIN – leading the neuroinformatics revolution

The Ludmer Centre’s  McGill Centre for Integrative Neuroscience (MCIN) has been leading development of the neuroinformatics revolution. Starting in the 1990s, Dr Evans began moving beyond small-scale tool development to create a complex neuroinformatics ecosystem at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) and Hospital (the Neuro). Initially developed to process data-heavy, computationally intensive neuroimaging research, MCIN’s neuroinformatics tools now encompass imagining, genetics, epigenetics, and clinical data processing. A well-funded tool-development pipeline into 2021 ensures MCIN will further expand and diversify the types of datasets it supports and the capacity to analyse them.

Data sharing improves cost effectiveness, the statistical power of a study, tool development, data-collection standardisation, and research reproducibly — large-scale databanks are now essential to research.  MCIN is uniquely positioned to support these initiatives and bridge Canadian researchers with global neuroscience initiatives. Today, MCIN’s neuroinformatics architecture is the cornerstone of over 22 large-scale data-sharing initiatives nationally and internationally, encompassing normal brain development, Alzheimer’s, autism, cerebral palsy, dementia, fetal alcohol syndrome, memory, Parkinson’s, and mental illness (including the only database globally to combine genetic, epigenetic and clinical data). It also underpins the NEURO’s unparalleled open-science data-sharing initiative Tanenbaum Open Science Institute.

Built on 20 years of sustained investment, no Canadian or international initiative can match MCIN’s neuroinformatics infrastructure, expertise, geographical reach or its leadership and proven record of accomplishment in big-data analytics and computational modelling in neuroscience. MCIN infrastructure is now integral to Canada’s neuroinformatics architecture as well as a key partner in neuroscience initiatives globally.

[1] E.g., the analysis of genes and proteins such as DNA sequence analysis.

From l to r: Sean Hill, Director of the Krembil Centre for Neuroinformatics; Alan Evans, CONP’s Scientific Director; Jane Roskams, professor of neuroscience, UBC and Executive Director, the BRAIN Commons; Suzanne Fortier, Principal of McGill; David Lametti, Member of Parliament for LaSalle-Émard-Verdun; Inez Jabalpurwala, President and CEO of Brain Canada; and Dr. Guy Rouleau, Director of The Neuro. / Photo: Owen Egan