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Stress on the Brain


The aging of Canada’s population over the next decade will bring a steady rise in the incidence of heart attacks and strokes, along with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Critical research on the brain’s role in these conditions got an important boost this past year when the Centre for the

Neurobiology of Stress (CNS) secured additional infrastructure support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation. With a matching grant from the Ontario Research Fund, the new funding totals more than $4 million.

The CNS was founded in 2001 by Professor Ian Brown (photo right), a molecular biologist who holds a Canada Research Chair in the neurobiology of stress. The centre is home to a cluster of UTSC researchers who bridge the molecular, cellular and physiological aspects of neuroscience. Virtually all of the new funding will go to technology that aids in examining the nervous system’s response to biological stress. The researchers also explore new therapeutic approaches – often in partnership with Canadian companies – for treating cerebrovascular and neurodegenerative disorders.

Among the beneficiaries is Professor Michelle Aarts (shown in photo with Professor Ian Brown), a cell and systems biologist and Canada Research Chair whose team studies the impact of strokes at the level of single neurons. “Our research targets the mechanisms of neuronal death following a stroke injury,” explains

Aarts. “The underlying causes of cell death and the progression of the brain lesion are still poorly understood. We hope to gain insights into which signal pathways influence cell survival.”

While Aarts and her colleagues work in a highly technical field with a language all its own, the reality of the afflictions they study is never far away.

“Stroke is a devastating disease with a severe impact on quality of life for patients and their families. It’s also the third leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Canada and costs the healthcare system almost $3 billion annually,” she notes. “

Our aim is to understand how cells communicate, recover from injury or die, so we can develop the first effective treatments to protect the brain from damage and speed functional recovery.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough