Rethinking “brain gain”

This fall, Dr. Bruce McNaughton, one of the world's foremost experts in neurophysiology, proudly joined the University of Lethbridge's Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience (CCBN). It's a "brain gain" made possible through the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR) Polaris Award – a 10-year, $10 million grant that will ultimately result in $20 million through matching funding.

Lured from the University of Arizona, McNaughton says it's the world-class expertise of the researchers at the CCBN that attracted him to the U of L.

"Drs. Bryan Kolb, Ian Whishaw, Robert Sutherland and many others at the CCBN are pioneers in the behavioural neuroscience field," says McNaughton. "There is nothing in North America that is like what we're building here."

His addition is a major coup for the University.

"This is the most significant hire in Canadian universities this year," says Dr. Dennis Fitzpatrick, vice-president (research). "The AHFMR Polaris Award is used to recruit internationally-significant scholars, and Dr. McNaughton is in that class."

Neuropsychology looks at how the brain works by figuring out what it can or cannot do when pieces of the mechanism are broken. McNaughton, a neurophysiologist, studies the healthy brain, gaining an understanding of the basis of knowledge. Alzheimer's patients, stroke victims and those with spinal injury all benefit from technology he has developed for measuring the activity of groups of healthy brain cells and how they interact with one another.

The brain is what we call a dynamical system, and it is constantly active, processing information even while we sleep," says McNaughton.

By unlocking the keys to how the brain generates knowledge, it opens the door to bypassing the broken connections in a damaged brain.

"The brain creates its own reality, and we're finding out how that works."

The CCBN has already established an unequaled reputation of innovative research; McNaughton's addition primes the U of L neuroscience team for unprecedented breakthroughs in discovery.