In an effort to quench the public’s thirst for knowledge about the brain and brain health, the Brain Repair Centre launched a new public forum series in December 2015. The BRC will host an open public forum like this several times each year, featuring speakers on diverse topics of high interest to the general public.

The December 16, 2015 forum featured three keynote speakers:

Alzheimer’s Disease and Frailty
Dr. Kenneth Rockwood, an internationally renowned researcher and professor in the divisions of Geriatric Medicine and Neurology in Dalhousie’s Faculty of Medicine, shared insights he has gained into risk factors and preventive strategies for Alzheimer’s disease (AD). He and his colleagues have developed tools for measuring people’s relative fitness or frailty as they age (the Frailty Index) and calculating their associated risk of developing AD. As he explained, this risk has to do with the complex interplay between the gradual accumulation of problems and concurrent loss of abilities to repair the damage over time. More recently, they’ve been measuring brain changes in AD patients, using MRI and the Brain Atrophy and Lesion Index (BALI). They have found that it is the presence of atrophy, rather than an abundance of lesions, that most accurately predicts the extent of a person’s cognitive problems. Physical exercise, more than “mind games,” provides the most comprehensive and effective protection against the deterioration of overall health and development of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Tackling an Aggressive Brain Cancer
Dr. Adrienne Weeks, a brain surgeon and assistant professor in the Division of Neurosurgery in Dalhousie’s Faculty of Medicine, spoke to the crowd about her efforts to fight glioblastoma, a highly aggressive form of brain cancer that is almost always fatal within five years of diagnosis. She is investigating potential ways to break down this cancer’s natural defence system, a protective shield the cancer cells form from molecules known as RNA stress granules. Dr. Weeks is searching for compounds that can cross the blood-brain barrier to bind with and inactivate the RNA stress granules, to make the cancer cells more susceptible to death by radiation and chemotherapy. She also discussed the need for better biomarkers for early diagnosis and new targets for chemotherapy, and the possibility of personalized treatment for this cancer in the future.

Maintaining the integrity of the blood-brain barrier to prevent brain disease
Dr. Alon Friedman, a professor in the departments of Medical Neuroscience and Pediatrics in Dalhousie’s Faculty of Medicine, has found that damage to blood vessels in the brain—from traumatic brain injury, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes or other reasons—is associated with a variety of brain disorders. These include epilepsy, emotional and cognitive impairments, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. As he explained, when the brain’s blood vessels are not functioning properly, substances in the blood cross the blood-brain barrier into the nerve tissues, damaging both the blood-brain barrier and the delicate nerve tissues it is meant to protect. His research is focused on developing new technologies and treatments for detecting and repairing damage to the blood vessels and the blood-brain barrier, to stop the destructive processes before brain disease develops and progresses. Learn more about Dr. Alon Friedman’s research here.

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