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Brain Canada funds innovative Alberta-wide research into Alzheimer's

Leading researchers use advanced imaging techniques to study diagnostic biomarkers for dementia
April 26, 2017
“If we can detect changes in the brain early, then we can test therapies before disabling symptoms set in,” says Eric Smith, associate professor in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Calgary. Photo by Adrian Shellard, for the Hotchkiss Brain Institute

“If we can detect changes in the brain early, then we can test therapies before disabling symptoms set in,” says Eric Smith, associate professor in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Calgary. Photo by Adrian Shellard, for the Hotchkiss Brain Institute 

Eric Smith of the Cumming School of Medicine’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) has been awarded $1.5 million to support the development of new techniques to identify Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages.

Working with researchers from the Universities of Alberta and Calgary, Dr. Smith will work with patients across the province to determine new diagnostic biomarkers through advanced imaging techniques. Together, they will identify patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

“It’s one of the most comprehensive and innovative neuroimaging studies happening with these disorders,” says Smith, holder of the Katthy Taylor Chair in Vascular Dementia and an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences.

Novel research could transform diagnosis

In addition to neuroimaging, Smith and his team will work towards the world’s first blood test for diagnosing Alzheimer’s, and preliminary data shows that they’re on the right track. “It would be a major advancement,” Smith says. “We could accurately diagnose people before they even develop symptoms.”

Blood tests and early diagnosis could overcome barriers to developing treatments and open the door to new therapies. “If we can detect changes in the brain early, then we can test therapies before disabling symptoms set in,” says Smith.

Interdisciplinary research capitalizes on expertise in Alberta

Brain Canada, with financial support from Health Canada through the Canada Brain Research Fund, will support Smith and his team through the Multi Investigator Research Initiative. Funding partners on this project are Alberta Innovates and the Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories (alzAB/NT). Top researchers from across Alberta join Smith through Campus Alberta Neuroscience’s Imaging Consortium and Healthy Brain Aging and Dementia research team. Campus Alberta Neuroscience works with Alberta’s researchers and brain health stakeholders to increase the impact of neuroscience research, education and translation through collaboration.

The project’s funding partners also see significant potential in the outcomes of the work.

“We believe that the transformational approach taken by this group of researchers will allow big improvements in diagnosis,” says David Westaway, PhD, president of the AlzAB/NT. “It fits perfectly with our vision of a world without Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and we’re excited by the possibility of making a dramatic impact in the lives of those affected by dementia."

On April 25, 2017, The Government of Canada and Brain Canada Foundation announced funding for this and 17 other new brain research projects across the country. Read more

Joining Smith in this cutting-edge series of projects are fellow HBI members Nils Forkert, PhD; Richard Frayne, PhD; Dr. David Hogan; Bruce Pike, PhD; and Dr. Peter Stys from the University of Calgary. Colleagues from the University of Alberta include Christian Beaulieu, PhD; Dr. Richard Camicioli; Roger Dixon, PhD; Liang Li, PhD; and Nikolai Malykhin, MD, PhD.

Smith is the leader of the Dementia and Cognitive Disorders NeuroTeam within the university-wide Brain and Mental Health research framework. Led by the HBI, Brain and Mental Health is one of six strategic research themes guiding the university towards its Eyes High goals.