BRI Growth Strategy poised to unlock researchers’ full potential
The Bloorview Research Institute (BRI) is at a crossroads and Dr. Tom Chau, the BRI’s Director and Vice President of Research, is standing firmly at the intersection.
Looking one direction, he can see the BRI taking a big leap forward as a world leader in childhood disability research.
He sees the BRI generating research that will have a profound effect on care, policy, advocacy and teaching in Canada and around the world.
Looking the other way he sees the BRI continuing to generate research that will help kids with disabilities, but falling short in realizing its full potential to generate breakthroughs that could revolutionize childhood disability care.
What will determine which path the BRI follows is the Bloorview Research Institute Growth Strategy.
It’s a $25 million campaign to give the BRI the funding, equipment and support it needs to stand tall on the world stage of childhood disability research.
This investment would be used to add new space for cutting-edge equipment including the first fully accessible, child-friendly MRI in Ontario as well as 10 new internationally-recognized scientists and state-of-the-art discovery hubs in machine learning and AI, imaging, and neuromodulation.
It would be the BRI’s largest expansion in its history.
Respected research facility
Currently, the BRI’s reputation nationally and internationally as a leader in the field of childhood disability research is solid…for the time being.
“We get contacted from families as far away as Australia, New Zealand and China, and they’re all pining for information about novel treatments and technologies that might help their children,” said Dr. Chau.
“But I don’t think we’re having the kind of impact that we would like to have in terms of influencing policy, education, practice, and reaching countries beyond Canada,” he added.
Meanwhile, there’s a growing hunger for research evidence, he believes.
“When we talk about evidence-based teaching, evidence-based policy and evidence-based care, all of these rely on evidence to make good decisions. That has to come from rigorous research.”
With such a high demand, it’s no surprise BRI is bursting at the seams.
“The BRI has outgrown its space and resources,” said Dr. Chau. “We don’t have enough space to accommodate what we’ve secured external funding to do. We’ve received grants to bring in equipment and conduct studies and we don’t have the space to make those things happen.”
With the Growth Strategy and the subsequent added space and equipment, the BRI could take flight in so many fields.
New fields for new discoveries
For example, there’s a growing interest in employing young people with disabilities, “but companies may not know where to turn to do this effectively,” said Dr. Chau.
“One of our scientists has been working on enhancing employment readiness for young people and best practices for employers. How do employers do things differently so that young people can succeed in the work place?”
Another exciting area that’s generating a lot of buzz is the work of Dr. Deryk Beal, who is exploring the effectiveness of neuromodulation technology.
This involves administering very small electric or magnetic energy pulses to specific parts of the brain, triggering pathways that can potentially accelerate learning in areas such as language.
“Science has advanced to a point where things we thought couldn’t be changed in the past, are in fact proving to be malleable,” said Dr. Chau.
“Five, ten years down the road, children will be learning skills we never thought possible given their diagnosis, because we can directly manipulate the brain for learning new skills.”
However, in order for Dr. Beal to properly pursue this field, he needs a fully accessible, child-friendly MRI – that’s tops on the BRI Growth Strategy wish list.
“Such a device will not only help Dr. Beal, it will attract other research pioneers investigating the neurobiology of brain disorders, the mechanisms of injury and recovery, neurodiversity, and other areas,” said Dr. Chau.
Unlocking Autism’s mysteries
An MRI would also open exciting doors in the field of autism, which has Dr. Evdokia Anagnostou rubbing her hands with excitement. Dr. Anagnostou is the co-leader of Holland Bloorview’s Autism Research Centre, and the Dr. Stuart D. Sims Chair in Autism.
An MRI could help her better understand precisely what area of the brain is responsible for social behaviour, identify the brain’s pathways for social cognition (how kids process, store, and apply information about other people and social situations).
It could also help her learn more about how medications affect the brain in kids with autism and help her better understand brain function in order to identify which kids are best suited for specific types of treatment.
And that’s what is so exciting for Dr. Chau, working alongside top talent like Dr. Beal and Dr. Anagnostou, while attracting more scientists who possess exciting new skills, abilities and areas of expertise.
It will enable the BRI to put knowledge into practice like never before and be instrumental in creating the most meaningful futures for kids with disabilities.
“If we don’t advance now, we’re going to lose our edge very quickly,” said Dr. Chau. “That’s why this Growth Strategy is absolutely critical.”