Strokes often permanently alter the life of affected individuals and their families, as they can result in memory loss, paralysis, or diminished vision among other consequences. Finding a cure for stroke would be transformative.   

However, equally transformative are the improved patient outcomes being achieved through research that increases understanding of brain function and leads to advances in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment options. Canada is a world leader in brain research, and our scientists and clinicians are making contributions across the full spectrum from basic discovery through the pathway to cures. Brain Canada, with the financial support of Health Canada (through the Canada Brain Research Fund) and many partners and donors, is funding research in this space.

One example is the emergency stroke drug NA-1, currently being tested in a clinical trial, which has shown the potential to prevent the death of neurons when administered within three to four and half hours of the stroke.

When a person has a stroke, time is of the essence — 1.9 million neurons are lost every minute. This loss means that with every half hour that passes, the likelihood of the patient making a positive recovery decreases from anywhere between 10–20 percent. While not a cure, the impact of stroke could be reversed and the damage mitigated by as much as 50 percent if NA-1 proves effective, reducing the impact on the affected individual’s quality of life after the stroke.

Research can reduce stigma. In the case of mental illness and addiction, improvements in brain imaging have allowed us to see their biological basis — that these are diseases of the brain with targets to develop treatments and, one day, cures.

Research leads to new technologies that can help reduce the burden of disease. For example, it gives someone living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS – also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) a means to regain communication.

Prevention and diagnosis are also important targets; the latter because the earlier a disease is detected, the earlier treatment can begin. Projects supported by Brain Canada include a patient trial testing a combination of electrical stimulation and brain exercises to delay the onset and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s; the development of an inexpensive retina exam to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s; the implementation of a sustainable early childhood mental health intervention that engages families and communities; and the testing of a system that monitors mobility, balance, and gait to predict and prevent falls in dementia patients, which can also be used to monitor rehabilitation after a stroke.

Other studies are focused on developing or testing new treatments, including the study of techniques to deliver drugs across the blood-brain barrier, which would dramatically improve treatment options for many neurological conditions; the development of therapies to treat the millions of people worldwide who suffer from irreversible vision loss, caused by the loss of the neurons in the retina that sense light; and the implementation of a physical exercise regimen for individuals with spinal cord injury to prevent secondary complications.
The above examples, which are by no means exhaustive, are an indication of the kind of impact that research investment is having on people today, and could have in the near future.

We call on all those who are part of the community supporting and advancing brain research, to help promote an understanding and vision of brain research as a process, where every discovery carries the potential to improve lives.