Campus Life

U of L neuroscientist earns election to the Royal Society of Canada

Acknowledging a lifelong career with exceptional contributions to the field of neuroscience, the University of Lethbridge’s Dr. Robert Sutherland, Board of Governors Research Chair, Chair of the Department of Neuroscience and Director of the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience (CCBN), has been elected to the Royal Society of Canada (RSC).

Dr. Robert Sutherland's work revolutionized the understanding of how the hippocampus is involved in the storage of new memories.

“It’s absolutely thrilling and it’s really gratifying to know there are colleagues who have been working at the highest level in Canada who recognize our contributions and voted to elect me into fellowship,” says Sutherland. “It’s a tremendous honour and I think it’s also an acknowledgement the University of Lethbridge is a mature research-intensive institution that can hold its own in many areas. It’s a great tribute to all the people who put in efforts to create a neuroscience program, and that includes undergraduate students.”

Sutherland began studying neuroscience before it was a recognized field and he has watched it grow over the years. In the 1970s when he was starting his post-secondary studies, neuroscience courses were typically found in psychology departments.

“It’s been very exciting to be with the area of neuroscience from its inception all the way to now,” he says. “It’s been fantastic, a really good ride.”

Following the completion of his PhD at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Sutherland joined the U of L as a post-doctoral fellow under Drs. Bryan Kolb and Ian Whishaw. His key focus was on developing better ways to measure memory in non-human animals. He devised methods that are now used by drug companies and laboratories around the world.

Wanting to expand his skill set and work with students at all levels, Sutherland then took a position at the University of New Mexico. There, he was able to work with students from undergraduate to PhD levels and post-doctoral fellows. During that time, he developed a theory of long-term memory that impacted the field and began focusing on understanding the role of the hippocampus in long-term memory. While scientists generally thought the hippocampus was only briefly involved in the storage of new memories, Sutherland’s work has shown the hippocampus continues to be engaged during memory recall.

He returned to the U of L as a senior Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research scientist when the CCBN building opened in 2001 and the U of L became home to the first Department of Neuroscience in Canada to offer degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s and PhD levels.

“I also morphed my research from purely normal aging to pathological aging and then to Alzheimer’s disease, bringing along the methods and theoretical perspectives I’d acquired over the years,” he says. “Now, in my lab, I’d say half of the work we’re doing is directly related to understanding Alzheimer’s type dementia.”

Sutherland’s election will be formally recognized at the Royal Society’s meeting at McGill University in November. Notably, he’ll become the fourth member of the Department of Neuroscience to receive the honour, along with Drs. Bruce McNaughton, Ian Whishaw and Bryan Kolb.

For more, see this profile.