New CCNA funding to support UBC researchers

Dr. Julie Robillard

This week, the Government of Canada announced the next phase of funding for the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA). From 2019 to 2024, CCNA will receive $46 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and 11 other partner organizations.

Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health (DMCBH) researchers have received a $540,000 investment from CCNA; there are 13 CCNA-affiliated researchers at DMCBH, five of whom have leadership roles, highlighting the centre’s depth of expertise in dementia:

  • Dr. Julie Robillard (pictured), a leader in the emerging field of the ethics of technology development for dementia, co-leads the Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues platform;
  • Dr. Neil Cashman, an international expert in prion diseases, leads the team investigating the impact of protein misfolding on neurodegeneration;
  • Dr. Robin Hsiung, internationally renowned dementia researcher and director of the Consortium of Canadian Centres for Clinical Cognitive Research, leads the team investigating the frontotemporal dementias;
  • Dr. Ian MacKenzie, whose work in the neuropathology of neurodegeneration has contributed to the discovery of three genes linked to the development of frontotemporal dementia, leads the Neuropathology platform; and
  • Dr. Haakon Nygaard, a leader in dementia stem cell research, leads the Academic Clinical Trials platform.

Other DMCBH researchers contributing to CCNA’s success are: Drs. Thalia Field, Liisa Galea, Teresa Liu-Ambrose, Joanne Matsubara, Martin McKeown, Vesna Sossi, Jon Stoessl, and Cheryl Wellington.

More than half a million Canadians live with dementia. An individual’s risk of being diagnosed with dementia roughly doubles every five years after age 65; by 2031, an estimated one in four Canadians will be aged 65 or older.

For Dr. Robillard, this investment is an opportunity to provide patient-centred leadership with an ethical eye for the details.

“UBC is a leader in dementia research, treatment, and care; researchers at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health and Neuroethics Canada and clinicians and clinician-scientists at the UBC Hospital Clinic for Alzheimer Disease and Related Disorders are at the intersection of translational research and ethics in issues affecting brain research and its real-word applications,” said Dr. Robillard. “We are uniquely positioned to drive advances in technology, drug intervention, and quality life for Canadians with dementia and their caregivers.”

The patient and family perspective will be important going forward.

“We need to know that we are asking the right questions, and searching for solutions to real-world problems,” said Dr. Robillard. “Additionally, as more and more technology designed to assist people with dementia and monitor their symptoms, it will be important to take an ethics-oriented approach to assessing issues of privacy, conflicts of interest, and usability.”  

The CCNA was established in 2014—based on a partnership between the CIHR, the ASC, and 12 other public and private funding bodies—and is led by Dr. Howard Chertkow, Professor of Neurology at the University of Toronto. CCNA is the largest initiative in dementia research ever undertaken in Canada; for Phase I, CCNA-affiliated members have managed to successfully leverage 1.5 times their initial allotted funds from other organizations, totaling $49 million. In its second phase of funding, CCNA will bring together over 310 researchers from 39 universities in eight provinces across Canada, and these researchers will continue to leverage funding and foster collaborations with other international studies on dementia.