Monday, July 25, 2011

What does it have to do with me?

Mel Goodale is director of the centre focused on the "three pounds of wet matter" between our ears.
When research centres hold press conferences to make important announcements there is a tendency for the average person to have the response, if they have a response at all, of: "So what? What does all this have to do with me?"

The Centre for Brain and Mind at The University of Western Ontario held such a press conference today. It was announced that The Centre will begin training post-doctoral fellows from University of Cambridge, King's College London and University College London (three of the top institutions in the United Kingdom). Similarly, Western will be sending three post-doctoral fellows to each of the three U.K. institutions for four-month training periods.

Stephen Williams, King's College, U.K.
This was big news — it had to be — as research scientists from the United Kingdom made the long flight across the pond to speak at the press conference.

Still, you can be forgiven for wondering, "What does any of this have to do with me?" Research like that done by The Centre can sound esoteric and its concerns remote, unless it involves you or a loved one.

Years ago, while still working for the local paper, I covered the installation of a special, 3 Tesla MRI unit at The Robarts Research Institute.

Kim Krueger, an MRI technologist, shows scans during tour.
I was told the huge scanner being carefully lowered by a giant crane slowly into the Robarts Centre was 10 to 15 times the strength of low field or open MRI scanners then in common use.

Interesting, impressive, but so what?

Then, a few months ago I found myself inside that high-field MRI as part of an ongoing research study.

The clarity of those images revealed what been hidden from specialists right across the continent, from London to Winnipeg to San Francisco; The 3T MRI showed that the right side of my heart is being converted from muscle to fat and scar tissue causing the right side to weaken and expand. A valve is leaking.

DNA testing confirmed that this was an ongoing problem with a genetic cause. I have ARVC.

Videographer Craig Glover films 7T MRI from a safe distance.
When I heard The Centre for Brain and Mind at the University of Western Ontario in the Natural Sciences building works closely with both University Hospital and the Robarts Research Institute, I knew this was a press conference I did not want to miss.

I learned the Robarts people have an even more powerful scanner than the one used to diagnose my heart problem; They have a 7 Tesla MRI — one of only three 7Ts in the world developed specifically for neurological use. According to Siemens, MRIs don't come any more powerful for human applications. Wow!

The research scientists with The Centre will be using this incredible and very rare machine. There are less than four dozen of these in use in the entire world. There are clear reasons why The Centre is widely recognized as a global leader in many branches of neuroscience research.

So what diseases may be forced to reveal their secrets by Western's pioneering scientists? Think Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, MS, schizophrenia, epilepsy, stroke, a myriad of psychiatric disorders . . . Sadly, I am sure something in that list hit all too close to home. What is being done here is not remote, ivory tower research but work advancing our knowledge about, and our ability to deal with, everyday medical tragedies.

And now you know the answer to the question: What does an announcement of the grand opening of The Centre for Brain and Mind have to do with me? In a word: "Lots!"

To read more about The Centre's research which is being conducted by approximately 20 principal scientists and many others across many disciplines at both Western and the Robarts Research Institute, check out the following links:

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