MSFHR-funded researchers discover clues to stroke recovery

10 July 2017

MSFHR Scholar Dr. Craig Brown and a team of researchers at the University of Victoria have discovered that light stimulation can improve stroke recovery.

Brown’s goal was to understand how a stroke disrupts brain circuits associated with sensation and movement in stroke-affected mice, and then explore ways to enhance recovery.

“We found that when a stroke occurs certain circuits become less excitable and don’t process sensory information in a normal way,” Brown explained. “But, if we force these circuits to express an algae protein that is sensitive to blue light we are able to re-excite them and, over time, these mice show more complete recovery, even after the light stimulation ends.”

Published in Nature Communications, this discovery is an exciting step towards a new approach for treating stroke. However, Brown stresses that there is more work to be done to understand the optimal conditions for recovery.

As is often the case, a new discovery reveals a myriad of new questions. For Brown, having protected time to focus on answering these questions is key.

“As your research career progresses, you are often pulled away from the research for teaching and admin work. An MSFHR Scholar Award means you have more protected time for research, so you can actually be in the lab, doing research and guiding trainees, helping them problem-solve and develop their own research skills,” says Brown.

One of these trainees is Dr. Kelly Tennant, who joined Brown’s team on receiving an MSFHR Research Trainee Award in 2011.

“It was an honour to receive a Trainee Award,” says Tennant. “I’ve been in the lab for almost six years now and it has been a fantastic learning opportunity, both working with Dr. Brown and using such a novel research technique (optogenetics). The funding not only supported me personally, but also meant that as a lab we were able to explore areas that might otherwise have been out of reach.”

The MSFHR Scholar and Research Trainee Programs are the Foundation’s flagship funding opportunities, helping to develop, attract and retain BC’s best and brightest health researchers and support the advancement of world-class health research in BC.

Dr. Craig Brown is an associate professor in the Faculty of Medical Science (Neuroscience) at the University of Victoria. He has received 2007 Research Trainee and 2011 Scholar Awards.

Dr. Kelly Tennant is a postdoctoral fellow in the Faculty of Medical Science (Neuroscience) at the University of Victoria. She received a 2011 Research Trainee Award.