Imagine if every company had to create its own Google to sift through the over one billion websites. Not only would this result in substandard and limited capacities, due to the high cost of recreating the wheel, but it would also limit investment in pushing search-engine technology itself.
Something similar was happening in research. While brain and mental health data continued to double exponentially, researchers and centres were still recreating their own stand-alone proprietary tools, software and databases to analyse small subsets of this data.
Pushing the boundaries of research technologies requires a centre – a creative incubator – with a team of experts dedicated to creating cutting-edge tools that are accessible to all researchers. Under the visionary leadership of three Scientific Directors, Dr Michael Meaney, Dr Alan Evans, and Dr Celia Greenwood, leading researchers in neuroinformatics, imaging, epigenetics and statistical genetics, the Ludmer Centre brings together the three vital components required to advance and revolutionize mental health research.
A wide variety of physical and mental illnesses already have some level of evidence indicating an epigenetic mechanisms: the way in which environmental factors (chemicals, nutrition, abuse, etc.) can change an individual’s genetic code and be inherited by their descendants.
Current epigenetic research indicates that adverse prenatal and childhood experiences can manifest in health problems across a person’s life spectrum, right into old age, increasing susceptibility to depression, anxiety and even Alzheimer’s, among other mental illnesses. Research into how individuals react to similar adverse events also suggests their impact is not immutable. It is also highlighting the existence and role of an individual’s resiliency factor and environmental factors that reinforce resiliency.
Epigenetic research provides hope for the identification of diagnostic bio-markers, early intervention plans, tailored-treatment plans and prevention strategies. Thus, both epigenetics and epigenomics —the genomewide distribution of epigenetic changes— are essential to a thorough understanding of all aspects of mental health. Neuroinformatics is crucial to this research given the complexity of the datasets.
Dr Michael Meaney, a world authority on epigenetics who ranks among the world’s most cited scientists, leads the epigenetics component of the Ludmer Centre. His work provides direct access to two longitudinal cohort studies of children in Montreal and Singapore, as well as collaborations with several other cohort studies across Canada and the USA. He and his team of 13 researchers and developers, in collaboration with La Fondation du Dr Julien, are also involved in the clinical application of research outcomes. The joint project examines the impact of the Foundation’s Community Social Paediatrics (CSP) approach on the development and well-being of children, thereby, building a knowledge base around CSP; specifically, how CSP interventions contribute to the reduction of toxic stressors in children.
Dr Meaney’s lab welcomes some 12 students and fellows annually.
To find out more about his work watch the Klaus J. Jacobs video or visit his website: Michael Meaney’s Laboratory.
The tools required to undertaken big-data research, which are prohibitively expensive and complex to develop, can not be readily duplicated in individual labs or even large research centres. The McGill Centre for Integrative Neuroscience (MCIN) was established to research and development cutting-edge neuroinformatics platforms and technologies that enable multifaceted research into the environmental, neurobiological and genetic interactions behind neurodevelopment and neurodegenerative diseases. In line with an open science approach, MCIN provides researchers around the world with access to innovative neuroinformatics tools and brain imaging datasets supported by a team of over 50 neuroinformatics development experts.
The tools, designed to be user-friendly, provided free-of-charge and continually enhanced with new functionalities, include:CBRAIN
Research collaborations can also be arranged for those who require support or special tool adaptions to perform their research; CBRAIN and LORIS are already the platforms for numerous multi-centre initiatives. MCIN also welcomes some 25 students and trainees annually from around the world.
Dr Alan Evans, a world authority on brain mapping and imaging technologies who ranks among the top 1% of cited researchers in neuroscience, leads the neuroinformatics component of the Ludmer Centre, MCIN.
The work of the statistical genetics team entails the development and application of a wide range of statistical approaches aimed at improving our understanding of how genome and environmental factors influence disease risks and progression. This culminates in algorithms and analytical software packages or pipelines that are incorporated into MCIN tools and posted to three open-source platforms —GitHub, CRAN and/or Bioconductor— where they can be accessed by other researchers either as a tool or as source code to enable others to improve or expand the software.
The algorithms are developed by an 8-member team using high-dimensional datasets that are not always directly related to mental health, such as, cancer and arthritis datasets. Consequently, the teams’ publications have a wider impact and appear in a diverse number of journals beyond bioinformatics, from cancer to arthritis, but remain relevant to mental health research.
Dr Celia Greenwood, a senior statistician who has made significant contributions in genetics, genomics, and genetic epidemiology, leads the statistical genetics component of the Ludmer Centre. She was co-lead of the UK10K statistical team which studied the genetic code of 10,000 people to investigate how rare, low-frequency genetic variants contribute to human diseases. Her work provides access to genetic datasets as well as the analytical capacity to develop algorithms underpinning a big-data approach to mental health research.
Dr Greenwood’s lab welcomes some 8 students and fellows annually.
To learn more about Dr Greenwood’s team and their latest research and publications visit the Statistical Genetics website.
The Ludmer Centre’s cutting-edge neuroinformatics technologies and expertise in epigenetics, statistics and brain imaging provide a unique support system for other researchers. Our tools are available to all researcher free-of-charge. Research collaborations can also be arranged for those who require greater support or special adaptions to perform their research. CBRAIN and LORIS are already the platforms for numerous multi-centre initiatives. For more information contact MCIN.
Access to our heterogeneous datasets and cohort studies is also available through collaboration with one of our lead researchers. If you would like more information, visit the relevant researcher’s website and use the contacts provided on their profile pages.