New CIHR project grants will continue to help advance brain research

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has announced the results of its Spring 2021 project grant competition, with six DMCBH members receiving funding to continue advancing research in multiple sclerosis, stroke, Huntington disease, brain repair and bipolar depression.

Learn more about each project:

Prediction of Cognitive and Motor Symptom Progression in Multiple Sclerosis Using Myelin Imaging

Principal investigators: Drs. Shannon Kolind and Anthony Traboulsee

At least 50% of people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) have a progressive form of the disease, meaning that disability increases steadily. This can include physical progression, e.g. difficulty walking, and cognitive progression, meaning that people experience problems with memory, attention and problem solving. 

The goal of this project is to show that new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques can be used to predict progression. MS damages myelin, a fatty substance that covers and protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. UBC researchers have developed an advanced MRI technique that can measure the amount of myelin present. By looking at the relationship between the amount of myelin and how well people performed on physical and cognitive tests, it was found that myelin and test scores are closely linked, which shows that myelin damage plays a role in progression.

Rise & Shine: Promoting Sleep Quality in Chronic Stroke with Exercise

Principal investigator: Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose

Sleep is important to our health and wellbeing. Poor sleep quality is linked to many chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, cognitive impairment, and dementia. After a person suffers a stroke, they often experience difficulties in getting a good night's sleep. Approximately half of stroke survivors have insomnia, or have trouble falling and/or staying asleep. Poor sleep quality among stroke survivors increases the risk of recurrent stroke by 3-fold and the risk of early death by 76%. Hence, stroke survivors need strategies to promote better sleep. Fortunately, evidence shows that sleep quality can be improved with exercise, even among those who struggle with insomnia. 

This project will specifically evaluate the effect of twice-weekly targeted exercise training on sleep quality over a 6-month period in persons with chronic stroke and poor sleep quality.

Building and rebuilding brain white matter with endogenous neural stem cells

Principal investigator: Dr. Freda Miller

Damage to brain white matter occurs following injury and in disorders like multiple sclerosis, and results in a wide variety of neurological issues, including sensory, movement, and cognitive problems. Currently, there are no effective medical therapies to promote brain repair and reduce disability following white matter damage.

Brain white matter is comprised of the axons of the nerve cells that conduct information, surrounded by a type of insulation called myelin that ensures signals are sent in a timely and faithful manner. This myelin is made by another brain cell type, oligodendrocytes, and in many of the aforementioned disorders these oligodendrocytes die, myelin is lost, and normal brain information transfer is disrupted. This project proposes a strategy based upon replacing the lost oligodendrocytes, thereby enabling myelin repair and restoration of normal circuitry.

Cannabidiol Adjunctive Therapy for Acute Bipolar Depression: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Trial

Principal investigator: Dr. Lakshmi Yatham

Bipolar Disorder (BD) is a lifelong condition characterized by extreme mood fluctuations called manic and depressive episodes. BD affects approximately 2 in 100 people worldwide and has a significant impact on both the personal lives of patients and society. The rate of death by suicide among patients with BD is 20-30 times higher than of the general population and suicide attempts most commonly occur during depressive phases. Depression is responsible for most of the disability experienced by BD patients who spend a great amount of time in this phase. However, only two medications are approved by the Health Canada for treatment of the depressive phases of BD. Thus, developing new treatments that are effective and have a good safety profile is an urgent unmet need for people with BD. 

This project's objective is to test cannabidiol (CBD) as a treatment for the depressive phases of BD in a study design known as a randomized clinical trial.

ROLES OF ALTERED ENDOPLASMIC RETICULUM CALCIUM REGULATION AND N-METHYL D-ASPARATE (NMDA) RECEPTOR SIGNALLING IN CORTICO-STRIATAL SYNAPTIC DYSFUNCTION: OPPORTUNITIES FOR THERAPY IN PRODROMAL HUNTINGTON DISEASE

Principal investigator: Dr. Lynn Raymond 

Huntington disease (HD) is an inherited brain disorder with average onset in middle age and progressive impairment of movement, cognition and mood. Neurodegeneration is most severe in two regions: the cortex and striatum, and the first changes occur at connections (synapses) between these regions.. There is a critical need to develop complementary therapies to normalize function of brain connections before clinical disease onset, by investigating the cellular mechanisms underlying those changes.

This project will test the role of cellular calcium regulation in triggering altered synapse function between cortex and striatum, with a focus on the cellular calcium storage and release compartment called the endoplasmic reticulum, and the NMDA receptor. The goal of this project is to guide development of therapies to preserve brain connections critical for maintaining normal function longer in HD gene mutation carriers.