It's all about wiring
The brain is all about wiring. And so, in a fundamental way, is the Ontario Brain Institute.
By the time we reach adulthood, our heads each contain up to 176,000 kilometers of wiring, in the form of impossibly fine organic filaments known as “axons.”
These tiny wires connect billions of thickets of firing synapses, shuttling an almost unimaginable volume of signal traffic from our senses into the brain, from one part of the brain to another, and from the brain to the rest of our bodies. This connecting network weaves together the diverse and widely distributed activity of our neurons into co-ordinated thought and action, plus the rich resource of memory.
At the Ontario Brain Institute, we aim to do something similar for brain science in the province. Not in complexity, of course, but in function.
Ontario has a lot going for it in terms of brain science and healthcare.
Many of the province’s universities, hospitals and research institutes boast neuroscientists of global stature, doing work at the cutting edge of their disciplines. And Ontario has a community of clinicians and patient advocacy groups with a track record of first class care and support.
The challenge is in the area of innovation. Ontario isn’t the world leader it could be in terms of translating neuroscience research into the kinds of procedures, services and products that produce breakthrough outcomes in brain health.
What’s been missing, we think, is a little wiring.
Our mandate at the Ontario Brain Institute is to help provide the “axons” that connect all those firing synapses around the province, helping to create a network that results in…well, co-ordinated thought and action, plus the rich resource of memory.
Wiring for collaboration: Integrated Discovery
The process starts by bringing scientists, clinicians, patient-care advocates and industry representatives to the same table. The goal is to facilitate discussion on the state of the art in science, the practical requirements of hospital and clinic, the needs and desires of patients, and the opportunities for business.
Drawing on all these perspectives, program leaders hammer out an integrated plan for research that hard-wires together advanced science, commercialization and real-world health outcomes, right from the very beginning.
Integrated discovery programs are also hard-wired for the kind of broad, ongoing collaboration that leads to breakthroughs. Scientists and clinicians are recruited from a range of disciplines and disorder specialties, and they share their data and assessments in common formats to enable rich cross-fertilization. Other stakeholders also continue to feed ideas into the project: a new insight from industry or a patient group can help to shape and focus the direction of the science – and vice versa.
The result is a connection between thought and action that leads to real-world impacts in brain health.
Wiring for memory: Brain-CODE
At the Ontario Brain Institute, we provide a “memory” for brain research through Brain-CODE.
Brain-CODE is a unique databank into which all the programs we support will feed their data. This will create a rich and continually growing mine of information on research conducted with thousands of subjects. It will be unique in the world for its cross-disorder breadth, its depth of data types, and for the interoperability of its data sets.
These attributes will make Brain-CODE a powerful tool for discovering underlying connections between brain disorders, developing fertile new hypotheses, and defining new targets for treatment. And we’ll make it available not only to Ontario researchers, but to neuroscientists around the globe as well.
The human brain contains, by some estimates, 1,000 trillion wired connections.
At the Ontario Brain Institute, we make no claim to that kind of complexity or ubiquity.
Instead, we pursue simplicity. Just as axons are relatively simple wires for the transmission of chemical and electrical signals, so we take a lean and very functional approach to what we do.
We don’t boast a complex of labs – just a handful of cubicles and offices, staffed with people who know and are passionate about brain research and medicine.
Nor are we a massive funder. Our role is to stimulate creativity and co-ordinate effort, to squeeze world-leading impacts from modest dollars. When we propose a program, we ask questions like: What gaps can we fill to make the programs goals possible? How can we help make existing resources work harder and smarter?
And most importantly: how we can help make the connections that lead to results? Connections between inspiration and application. Between curiosity and commercialization. Between brain scientist and brain patient.
This is, after all, how the brain itself works – by making connections.
And making connections is how we make brain research work for Ontario.