Oct. 27, 2023
UCalgary scholar receives $1M for bold spinal cord injury research
Dr. Aaron Phillips, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Calgary, is the 2023 recipient of the $1-million Hopewell M.I.N.D. Prize to advance his work in spinal cord injury. The research project was selected by an international panel of experts, including representatives from Harvard Medical School, the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The judges evaluated the top three finalists on the potential impact of their proposed research projects. The successful project will test a way to reduce damage and support neuro-recovery after spinal cord injury.
“I am so grateful to the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and (philanthropist) Sanders Lee for supporting our innovative research, which is at a critical point where this injection of funding will turn this bold idea into something that changes lives,” says Phillips. “The M.I.N.D. Prize is a tremendous boost that will help our lab to conduct transformative research in medicine.”
The Hopewell M.I.N.D. (Maximizing Innovation in Neuroscience Discovery) Prize was created in 2021 through a $10-million commitment from Calgary philanthropist Sanders Lee, the founder of the Hopewell Group of Companies. The prize aims to spark innovation through supporting cutting-edge research at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) at the Cumming School of Medicine.
“What defines an entrepreneurial mindset, whether in research or in the community,” says Lee, “is the willingness to take chances and go for a high-impact outcome. The M.I.N.D. Prize brings these high-impact ideas to Calgary and provides opportunities for potential lifesaving discoveries for humankind.”
As the recipient of the 2023 prize, Phillips plans to use the award to test new ways to prevent spinal cord injury, reduce damage and support healing.
“All three finalists presented high-calibre projects that are cutting edge in their fields,” says HBI director Dr. David Park, PhD. “The M.I.N.D. Prize has the power to generate significant new discoveries benefitting people living with neurological disease.”
The two finalists for the prize were Dr. Deborah Kurrasch, PhD, with her project to develop a new, better-tolerated psychedelic drug for the treatment of mental illness, and Dr. Wee Yong, PhD, with his project to test new ways to reducing scarring and damage on injured cells within the central nervous system in multiple sclerosis, so they can repair themselves.
“The Hopewell M.I.N.D. Prize is a key example of the school of medicine and the University of Calgary’s commitment to and celebration of innovation,” says Dr. Todd Anderson, MD, dean of the Cumming School of Medicine. “Our focus on innovation supports our researchers and trainees. It guides our researchers in becoming entrepreneurs and strengthens our ties with our community partners – people who invest in risk and give to discovery research.”
The Hopewell M.I.N.D Prize competition for the 2023-24 year opens on Nov. 1. This year, eligibility has been expanded to include postdoctoral fellows. The 2024 M.I.N.D. Prize competition will accept applications from fellows and HBI members as a team. These teams will propose impactful and innovative projects in their pursuit of the $1-million prize. Visit the web page as of Nov. 1 for all the information.
Aaron Phillips is an associate professor in the departments of Physiology and Pharmacology, Cardiac Sciences and Clinical Neurosciences and director of the Restore Network at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). He is a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, and Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the CSM.
Deborah Kurrasch is a professor in the departments of Medical Genetics and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, Alberta Children’s Hospital Institute, and Owerko Centre at the CSM.
Wee Yong is a professor of in the departments of Clinical Neurosciences and Oncology and co-leads UCalgary’s Multiple Sclerosis NeuroTeam. He is a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases at the CSM.
About the Hotchkiss Brain Institute
The Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) consists of more than 300 scientists and clinician-scientists who are dedicated to advancing brain and mental health research and education. The institute leads the Brain and Mental Health research strategy at the University of Calgary, toward a better understanding of the brain and nervous system and new treatments for neurological and mental health disorders, aimed at improving quality of life and patient care. Learn more about the HBI.