OTTAWA — The federal government is helping fund a $100-million initiative with Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences to develop a national hub for brain research.
In his budget speech Tuesday, Finance Minister Joe Oliver included $42 million over five years for the Canadian Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation at Baycrest.
Dr. William Reichman, president and chief executive of Baycrest Health Sciences, says the centre will connect health-care companies, software developers, and caregivers with sources of seed funding, industry partners and, most crucially, seniors who can test and provide feedback on the use of new ideas.
“Past generations of adults said they were most concerned about cancer or heart disease. This generation says they’re most concerned about their brains,” said Dr. Reichman.
The partnerships will develop radical new methods of diagnosing and repairing brain ailments. One project, The Virtual Brain, is already in its second phase of development.
“We download brain imaging onto a computer and test rehab strategies on the virtual brain to see whether therapies are lighting up areas we want to activate. Instead of doing it by chance and hoping it works, we test theories on a computer model of your brain,” Dr. Reichman said.
The centre will act as a central resource for what he says is a sometimes fragmented, under-supported industry.
“Typically, we look to research institutes, universities and the industry to introduce solutions. But people who are on the front end of care and those receiving care represent a gold mine of innovative ideas,” he said.
“But because they’re not an industry or university they have nowhere to go with their ideas. A nurse can’t call Apple with a new software innovation.”
Dr. Reichman believes an entirely new suite of software products — such as online brain health assessments, memory and aging management training, and mobile medication monitoring — will allow people to live more independently at home and reduce the need to see a doctor or visit an emergency room.
“I think it’s going to be transformational. We’re going to look back on what we’re doing today and think ‘How quaint that was,’” he said.
With the number of older people expected to double in the next two decades, maintaining healthy minds has become a concern — both for health-care providers and seniors themselves.
Along with the $42 million in federal funding will come contributions from Baycrest and its partners, including IBM, Johnston & Johnston, Rexall, and the Ontario Brain Institute.
The brain simulations are run on a cluster of supercomputers located in Marseille, France, and will offer caregivers the opportunity to treat brain ailments and test theories like never before.
“The creation of this centre is another indicator of this government’s commitment to brain and aging,” said Dr. Reichman. “They’re showing leadership and positioning Canada very well for a vital issue in a global industry.”