Neuroscience collaboration to boost research capacity on both sides of border

An evolving partnership between the University of Lethbridge, Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions (AIHS) and the University of California Irvine (UCI) is poised to enrich collaborative science and training opportunities for North American researchers in the field of brain and memory.

Dr. Bruce McNaughton will now be splitting his time between the University of Lethbridge and University of California Irvine.

An agreement has been struck that will see renowned neuroscientist Dr. Bruce McNaughton splitting his time between the two campuses over the next four years, leading the development of an international exchange program between two world-class centres of brain research excellence.

“This is an outstanding opportunity to develop a strong research and training link between the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience (CCBN) at and UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (CNLM), centres that have highly overlapping interests and complementary research skills,” says McNaughton, the U of L’s Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions’ Polaris Award winner.

“Multi-centre collaborations are the wave of the future in health research, and this arrangement is a value-add for Albertans,” says Dr. Pamela Valentine, AIHS chief operating officer. “It will enable neuroscientists at both centres to enhance their research support from several private and public sources.”

The arrangement is expected to include support from initiatives such as the Brain Activity Mapping (BAM) program in the United States, which has been funded $150 million per year for 10 years, the European Union's Human Brain Project, and the Human Frontier Science Program, which explicitly supports international collaborations.

McNaughton was recently jointly appointed at UC Irvine School of Biological Sciences as a distinguished professor of neurobiology & behavior. He will be on partial leave of absence from the University of Lethbridge, having initially arrived there in 2008 as the recipient of the 10-year, $20-million AIHS Polaris Award.

Since McNaughton’s AIHS Polaris appointment, the CCBN has added five junior faculty members with a research focus on neural systems and memory, created the framework for multiple international collaborations and substantially increased its infrastructure to support some of the most advanced systems neuroscience research in the world.

“One of the principal missions of the AIHS Polaris program is to develop major external research collaborations in the field of neuroscience,” says Dr. Dan Weeks, the U of L’s vice-president, research. “Through this agreement, our researchers not only gain access to significant grant opportunities, but to the equipment and expertise that UC Irvine offers.

“UCI faculty and trainees will also have access to CCBN expertise and infrastructure, established through the AIHS Polaris program, that features some of the most advanced instrumentation in modern neuroscience. This arrangement will provide outstanding opportunities to further our mutual goals and provide a platform for inter-faculty collaborative work that we’ve not had previously.”

The intended program initially involves collaborative work on an animal model of memory impairments in dementia developed by UCI, as well as an animal model, under development jointly at CCBN and CNLM, for use in creating devices to help restore memory function in patients with memory impairment due to loss of hippocampal function.

McNaughton foresees the program expanding into a ‘super-centre’ that would include productive links with several similar centres around the world.