Neurological disorders affect roughly 33 per cent of the Canadian population through depression, chronic pain, addictions, post-traumatic stress, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson disease, among others.
Research into these areas is getting a boost from the federal government in the form of the Canadian Brain Research Fund, which will commit up to $100 million to neuroscience research.
The investment has the potential to double to a maximum of $200 million based on dollar-for-dollar matching by donors and partners with the Brain Canada Foundation.
“I think it’s great,” said Dr. Richard Stein, neuroscience professor at the University of Alberta and past board member with the Brain Canada Foundation. “As a neuroscientist, obviously this is going to make a tremendous impact on research in Canada.”
The funding will be directed towards research exploring the connections between different brain disorders.
“We know so little about the brain; it’s an enormously complicated structure,” he said. “Rather than trying to go immediately for cures and applications, the goal is more to understand how it normally works and how it gets affected by a variety of different disorders.”
Inez Jabalpurwala, president and CEO of the Brain Canada Foundation, said the funding will be used to fund specialized research teams, invest in various technologies and fund training for future generations of neuroscientists.
“Ultimately, it will benefit all Canadians,” she said. “Our understanding of the brain is critical to so many areas of our life.”
Jabalpurwala said the economic burden of neurological disorders is more than cancer and cardiovascular disorders combined. Despite the financial burden being much greater, funding is often much harder to obtain, both publicly and privately, she said.
The federal government will only contribute funds if they are matched by non-federal sources. In both 2011-12 and 2012-13, a maximum of $10 million will be handed out, with up to $20 million in each of the four following years.
Jabalpurwala said she is confident the foundation will match the donations.
“We’ve seen a lot of interest by private donors,” she said. “There’s also a big space for attracting new donors to this area who maybe have not had a particular interest or understanding of brain research.”
The foundation will soon start accepting grant applications from research teams, with research expected to begin in early 2013.
“Canada has the excellence and the capacity, so it’s not just to fund research in this area because we recognize an enormous burden, it’s to fund research because we recognize that Canadian researchers have the ability to really contribute on a global level,” she said.
The Government of Canada promised to establish the Canadian Brain Research Fund in Budget 2011 after roughly 10 years of pressure from the foundation.
“Canada is a global leader in brain research. This investment will enable the Brain Canada Foundation to build on its past experience and accomplishments in supporting neurological research,” said Christelle Legault, Health Canada spokesperson.