For nearly a decade, Dr. Sultan Darvesh has been on the hunt for a way to definitively diagnose Alzheimer disease in people while they are still alive – and before their cognitive functions have slipped below the threshold that allows for independence and quality of life.

Dr. Alan Fine and his research team are discovering how people learn and remember by examining the brains of tiny transparent fish called zebrafish. “We can actually see into the fish’s brains under a microscope and trace the functional changes that take place as they form new synapses,” says Dr. Fine, a professor in Dalhousie’s Department Physiology & Biophysics.

Dr. George S. Robertson has teamed up with a Saskatoon-based R&D firm to develop and test a promising new approach to protect the brain from injury, with support from a $30,000 BRC Knowledge Translation Grant.

A Brain Repair Centre Knowledge Translation (BRC-KT) grant will help Dalhousie researcher Dr. Ying Zhang and her collaborator, Dr. Vic Rafuse, take the next big step in their efforts to develop an in vitro system for rapidly screening potential treatments for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Dalhousie neuroscience PhD student and Brain Repair Centre member Chris Cowper-Smith has embarked on a commercial venture that uses small springs to deliver big gains to people with knee problems. He and his business partners have developed a spring-loaded knee brace—Levitation™—which will be widely available in 2015 through their new company, Spring Loaded Technology.

A $30,000 Knowledge Translation Grant from the BRC is helping Dr. David Clarke and his collaborators develop a mobile app that will hone the OR skills of nurses and residents.

Prominent neuroscientist Dr. Alon Friedman joined Dalhousie University as the new William Dennis Chair in Epilepsy research in July 2014. Dr. Friedman’s goal is to prevent epilepsy and other brain diseases by finding ways to detect and repair disease-causing damage to the blood-brain barrier.

The risks of surgery and anesthesia rise with age – in particular the risks to the brain. As Dalhousie/Capital Health anesthesiologist and professor Dr. Michael Schmidt explains, this is because brain cells gradually die as we age, leaving older people with fewer brain cells in reserve. This puts these patients at a higher risk of cognitive declines after surgery, because compounds produced in the anesthesia process have toxic effects on brain cells.

“We have to remove the patient’s exhaled carbon dioxide from the air they’re breathing, or they will suffocate,” says Dr. Schmidt, who is affiliated with the Brain Repair Centre. “Current agents used to absorb the carbon dioxide react with the anesthesia medications and produce neurotoxic compounds. This is not such a problem for younger people, who have billions of neurons available to fill in, but can lead to life-altering loss of cognitive function for older people.”

Dr. Schmidt is determined to reduce the cognitive risk of anesthesia – and he and his research collaborators are well on the way. He and biomedical engineering PhD student Florentin Wilfart have invented a new scrubbing agent which removes carbon dioxide without producing any toxic compounds. He has also launched a spin-off company, DMF Medical Inc., and enlisted the business acumen of Dr. David Roach from Dalhousie’s school of business administration to help the company develop a solid business plan and marketing strategy.

“It was my vision, when I came to Halifax from Germany in 2007, to create a triangle between the Department of Anesthesia, the School of Biomedical Engineering and the School of Business Administration,” says Dr. Schmidt. “This way we can pool our expertise to create workable solutions to real clinical problems and then get those solutions out and into use around the world.”

In addition to the new scrubbing agent, Dr. Schmidt and Mr. Wilfart are investigating several approaches to protecting the organs, including brain and spinal cord, during anesthesia. One of these strategies involves noble gases that may actually protect brain cells when used as an anesthetic. As Dr. Schmidt says, “Our focus is on new agents, new procedures and new devices to make anesthesia as safe as possible for patients of all ages.”  

Photo and text courtesy of Capital Health Research Services


Stay tuned for more stories featuring the important work of our Brain Repair Centre researchers.






A unique group of neuroscientists at Dalhousie’s Brain Repair Centre is revealing the mechanisms that cause ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), a fatal neurodegenerative disease that results in progressive muscle paralysis. Most people with the disease eventually succumb to respiratory failure.

With help from a $30,000 BRC Knowledge Translation (KT) Grant, Dr. Gail Eskes and her team are transferring a PC-based attention test onto a mobile platform to make it more accessible.

Brain Repair Centre member Dr. Gail Eskes is working with graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, Dalhousie colleagues and local technology firm, REDSpace, to develop the “Cognitive Repair Kit.” Just as its name suggests, the Cognitive Repair Kit provides a set of tools to help people repair cognitive abilities that have been compromised—primarily by stroke but also by Parkinson’s disease.

Dalhousie neuroscientist Dr. Alan Fine has invented a high-resolution microscope that can be made to fit on the tip of a biopsy probe. With support from a Brain Repair Centre Knowledge Translation (BRC-KT) grant, Dr. Fine and his collaborators will explore how this revolutionary new device can be used to diagnose brain tumours and improve the safe, efficient and thorough removal of cancerous tissues from the brain.

Students play a vital role in the hands-on, day-to-day work of conducting complex and demanding experiments. We are pleased to launch a new series of articles profiling some of the students behind the research taking place at the BRC.

Matthew Nichols, a PhD Student in Dr. George Robertson's lab, is investigating a new target for a potential drug therapy that could reduce or even prevent stroke-related brain damage.

The effector independent nature of motor imagery: Evidence from rTMS induced inhibition to the primary motor cortices.

Journal article on the latest work examining the nature of motorimagery via TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation), from the Laboratory for Brain Recovery and Function. Click for access to full paper

A Brain Repair Centre Knowledge Translation grant is allowing Dr. Alon Friedman to pioneer a new technology using retinal imaging to identify early signs of brain disease.

The winner of the BRC's inaugural Discovery Grant, Dr. Turgay Akay wants to understand the underlying mechanisms of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).

Behavioral neuroscientist Dr. Tara Perrot wants to know what we can do in early life – and even before birth – to ensure a healthy, well-regulated stress response throughout life.

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