Partnership yields high-impact promise for better brain health

1 May 2015

A new discovery that may prevent dangerous brain swelling after head trauma demonstrates the impact of research supported through MSFHR partnerships.

UBC researchers at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health have identified a protein that enables chloride ions to enter nerve cells in the brain following a traumatic injury. The chloride draws fluid in, leading to swelling that can create a crushing pressure that damages the brain. The researchers found that blocking this protein’s activity prevents fluid entry into the cells.

“We’ve known for years that sodium chloride accumulation in neurons is responsible for brain swelling, but now we know how it’s getting into cells, and we have a target to stop it,” explains the study’s lead researcher Brian MacVicar (2003 MSFHR Scholar) in a UBC press release.

Swelling that occurs in the hours after head trauma – due to heart attack, stroke, infection, or injury – is often a key factor in potentially lethal brain damage. At present, the only treatment is to surgically remove a portion of the skull: a risky and extreme measure. This finding finally gives scientists a specific focus for much-needed drug development.

“This discovery is significant, because it gives us a target – now we know what we’re shooting at,” says MacVicar. “We just need the ammunition.”

Their next ambitious step is to design and make this “ammunition”: a drug that can block the channel and protect the brain.

Reaping the benefits of partnership

As with most scientific research, this discovery was the result of collaboration among a group of scientists with specialized expertise in different fields.

“Science is a team sport,” says MacVicar. “It’s not just a sprinter crossing the finish line. Getting this result was more like getting a gold medal in hockey where it takes a whole team working together.”

And the same is true for funding research. Behind a single scientific discovery there may be multiple funders supporting individual team members, the equipment and supplies they work with, the facilities where they are based, and the costs associated with presenting their work to colleagues.

With so much complexity, everyone benefits when the funders partner to align their goals more efficiently.

The research leading to this discovery was supported by a $1.5-million grant awarded in 2013 through Brain Canada’s Multi-Investigator Research Initiative (MIRI). MSFHR co-funded this award in partnership with UBC, Genome BC, the University of Saskatchewan, and the Canada Brain Research Fund.

Working together with national and provincial partners allowed MSFHR to magnify its investment in neurological research and increase the scope of what that investment could achieve.

An MSFHR partnership also supported the career development of Stuart Cain, a member of the research team who was previously jointly funded MSFHR-BC Epilepsy Society Trainee Award. Cain’s involvement in this high-impact work illustrates the importance of working with partners to fund positions that build and maintain a strong pool of skilled researchers.

Partnership opportunities

MSFHR is currently seeking partners for our 2015 Trainee Award competition. The opportunity to co-fund a skilled post-doctoral researcher is open until the end of May 2015. We invite like-minded organizations to contact us to discuss co-funding initiatives that achieve common goals and create new opportunities for health research.

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