The Brain Repair Centre hosted a unique event in December which brought members of the non-profit, business and life sciences communities together, for the first time, to talk about how to work together to advance neuroscience in Nova Scotia.

The BRC’s 2013 Research and Poster Day featured three panels to generate discussion on such key issues as how to commercialize neuroscience innovations, how to engage the broader community, and how to ensure that patients benefit from research, now and in the future.

“By the end of the day, we all felt we had accomplished something new,” says Dr. Vic Rafuse, director of the BRC. “For the first time, we brought in community members representing the people who are living with neurological disease, and asked them directly, ‘What can we do for you?’ What emerged was a sense of shared purposes and of the need for us all to work together to advocate for these people and the research that’s needed to address the looming epidemic of neurological illness we’re facing as our population ages.”

The three panels explored key issues:

Lessons Learned Commercializing Neuroscience
Moderator: Diana Nichols Nelson, BRC
Panelists: David Roach, DMF Medical; Neil Ritchie formerly Nova Neuron; Steven Beyea, BIOTIC
These panelists shared their experiences of what’s required to successfully commercialize the fruits of research—such as an innovative product or service—in the neuroscience field. Having a great technology and a big market are not enough—all the pieces have to fit together and the business has to be properly structured and financed, with the right partners and players to make it work. In Neil Ritchie’s case, serendipity was the launching pad for Nova Neuron, which became an important catalyst for the creation of the Brain Repair Centre and the construction of the Life Sciences Research Institute. David Roach reminded us that it’s not rocket science to develop a neuroscience business, yet persistence, rigour and a strong portfolio of ideas are needed to build a successful enterprise.

Engaging the Community
Moderator: Dr. Rafuse, BRC
Panelists: Kimberley Carter, ALS Society; Lloyd Brown, Alzheimer Society; Robert Shaw, Parkinson’s Society; Mike Cullen, MS Society
These panelists explained the challenges their organizations are facing as the number of people who need their help continues to expand. Mike Cullen added poignant and revealing insights into the role of the care provider, based on his own experience caring for his wife, who has had MS for more than 16 years. The panelists—each representing a provincial or regional division of a national body—all agreed their local efforts could be enhanced by working in partnership with the BRC and researchers studying the diseases and disorders they represent. Kim Carter proposed that the associations/societies and the BRC form a working group. Vic Rafuse agreed and suggested exploring next steps early in 2014.

Pathway to the Patient
Moderator: Marli MacNeil, BioNova
Panelists: Laura Fraser, Chronicle Herald; Scott Moffitt, BioNova; Kenneth Rockwood, Dalhousie/Capital Health
This panel brought together themes from the first two panels and explored in greater depth the challenges that Nova Scotia will face in the future to provide quality care that meets the needs of its steadily aging population. As one of the Chronicle Herald journalists involved in a series of articles about dementia, Laura Fraser eloquently portrayed the situation faced by dementia patients, and their families, in Nova Scotia. Kenneth Rockwood spoke about persevering, despite criticism, to involve thousands of patients in developing a comprehensive analytical approach that enables patients and care providers to track symptoms, needs and responses to treatments. BioNova CEO Marli MacNeil and managing director Scott Moffitt reminded us of the challenging and expensive pathway to getting technologies and drugs from the lab to the patient.

In wrapping up the day, Vic Rafuse emphasized the BRC’s commitment to being relevant to the patient community, through research, outreach and collective efforts. BRC researchers will continue to conduct investigative research and work with partners and champions in the broader life sciences community to translate the results of their research into meaningful improvements in care and quality of life for people with neurological injury and disease.

Poster session
BRC’s 2013 Research Day ended with a poster session and wine and cheese reception in the atrium of the Life Sciences Research Institute. Attendees cast ballots to vote for their favourite posters.

First Place went to Kaitlyn Holman, a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Kevin Duffy (Department of Psychology & Neuroscience), who studies the role of sensory experience in neural development and plasticity.

Second Place went to Jessica Taylor, a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Ian Weaver (Department of Psychology & Neuroscience), who studies the effects of in-utero and early-life stress on brain development.

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