From the Frontiers of Health Science Research

September 17, 2015 | Miriam

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So often we listen to the radio and hear a story about a remarkable new treatment for illness or groundbreaking research that offers clues to the underlying causes of an intractable disease. And then it's gone and you are left to wonder. Is it real? Is it in use or will it be in use in the foreseeable future? Will it help you or your child, parent or friend? 

In the The Cutting Edge lectures launching this fall, Toronto Public Library begins to look in depth at some of the new research that talented scientists are working on at nearby universities and hospitals. The series offers a way for the public to explore some of the new ideas that lie at the intersection of health and technology and their implications for treatments. This series, which will run for three years, has been generously supported by the Krembil Foundation.

One of the most gripping areas of research is neuroscience, a multidisciplinary field that studies the nervous system and brain, a system of extraordinary complexity. Four of the nine lectures in the series focus on aspects of neuroscience. We'll look at the other subjects in a separate blog post.

In Memories of the Malleable Mind, Dr. Kari Hoffman at Agincourt on Oct 1 will discuss her research on learning and remembering. Dr. Hoffman takes on the view that our brains are fixed, or “hard wired,” and describes how the brain is actually in a constant state of chatter, and this chatter is dynamic and flexible. Dr. Hoffman (below, right) is the principal investigator at York's Perception & Plasticity Lab which looks at how are our memories manifest in brain activity and whether this activity can be intercepted or enhanced. Hoffman and her colleagues are interested in the neural mechanisms underlying perception and memory formation. 

Kari Hoffman
Credits: York, Research &
Plasticity Lab.

Dr. Derek Wilson looks at some of the causes of cognitive decay in When Proteins Go Rogue at Danforth/Coxwell on Oct 28. He is especially interested in the molecular origins of diseases such as Alzheimer's. At his York lab, the Wilson Group uses some very cool research tools, like Mass Spectrometry and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance--and you can read about it on his website in a very accessible and interesting  introductory essay. Prepare to be fascinated by this talk! 

QStar Elite

Derek Wilson
Credits: Wilson Lab. Sciex QStar Elite mass spectrometer (left) and Derek Wilson. QStar Elite allows researchers to measure masses of large proteins.

Dr. Thilo Womelsdorf in Brain Networks Underlying Mental Illness at Brentwood on Nov. 23 looks at some of the new frontiers in mental illness. His area of research centres on the networks of brain cells. New studies are revealing that malfunctioning communication in these networks is the common path for many mental illnesses. In brief, his research is based on the premise that every choice and course of action "has its causal origin in neuronal brain dynamics that can be identified and understood." At the heart of all this, Dr. Womelsdorf argues, is the need to rethink the origins of mental illness and its treatments. 

Dr. Chris EliasmithFinally, Dr. Chris Eliasmith (pictured left) will be delivering the inaugural Cutting Edge lecture at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon at Toronto Reference Library on November 25, 7 pm, What Can We Learn by Building A Brain? Chris Eliasmith is the Director of Theoretical Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo and the creator of Spaun, the world's largest human brain simulation. This simulation allows researchers to investigate working memory, movement and decision making, and opens up the possibility to individualize treatments for conditions such as brain damage, stroke or Parkinson's Disease. 

Toronto Public Library has some very  interesting titles about some of the incredible new research into the workings of the human brain. One of them is The Future of the Brain : Essays by the World's Leading Neuroscientists (Dr. Chris Eliasmith is one of the contributors).

How to Build a Brain  Future of the brain