A boom in brain research

Canada has paid a large fee to enter the race to map the mind.

Historically a world leader in brain research, recent funding commitments by the both provincial and federal governments aim to keep Canada neck in neck with research efforts around the world. But the way that the governments have directed their money is indicative of how close they believe scientists are to understanding the intricacies of the complex organ.

The race for a map of the brain has been heralded as the “new human genome project” and money and resources are being poured into neuroscience. Large-scale collaborative projects are  studying how the brain works, with the idea that once there is a basic understanding of the brain it will serve as a jumping off point for many scientific breakthroughs.

Following this idea, Brain Canada is tapping into the funding opportunities announced by the federal government last May. According to an article in the Globe and Mail, if the organization can raise up to $100-million over the next six years, Ottawa will match the amount, dollar for dollar, to support innovative Canadian research.

However, some scientists argue that human genome is much less complex than the human brain and that a complete map could be decades in the future. While no one disagrees that a map of the brain would move us forward in leaps and bounds of understanding, some doctors believe that focusing in on a brain disease, like Alzheimer’s, could be beneficial to many more people much sooner.

The Ontario government has decided to believe this school of thought and with the arrival of new premier Kathleen Wynne, it allotted $100 million to a targeted study of Alzheimer’s through the Ontario Brain Institute.

The Brain and Mind Research Institute University of Ottawa says that “the largest cost to the health care system currently is cognitive impairment and dementia.” They estimate that 500,000 Canadians are living with dementia, and the cost of caring for dementia in Canada is more than $20 billion.

It is also a popular funding target for the province to champion because the relation to reducing health care costs is blatantly evident. While more broad research could be appealing for the federal government because of the recognition that would come with being the country to unlock the brain.

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