Dr. Annie Ciernia is among 20 neuroscientists in Canada who have been awarded $100,000 each in research funding, as part of Brain Canada’s 2021 Future Leaders in Canadian Brain Research Program.

“I am honoured to be among the recipients of Brain Canada’s Future Leaders program,” says Dr. Ciernia, a DMCBH member and Assistant Professor in UBC’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “It is truly exciting to be part of this cohort of early-career researchers who are all focused on improving brain health for all Canadians.”

Her project, in collaboration with Dr. Carolina Tropini from UBC’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, will examine how disruption of gut-brain communication during development can lead to mental health problems in pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

“There remains a wide knowledge gap in understanding how the brain is negatively impacted in disorders with inflammation of the gut,” she says. “This is particularly important in the case of childhood gut disorders, which could negatively impact the developing brain and cause long-term behavioural impairments.”

Dr. Ciernia and her team’s hypothesis is that when the microbes in the gut send signals to immune cells in the brain, IBD causes disruptions to these signals, which changes brain development and ultimately leads to impaired mental health. The results of this study will hopefully accelerate the understanding of how the microbiome contributes to pediatric IBD and identify new therapeutic options for treating mental health issues in gut disorders.

The goal of the Future Leaders in Canadian Brain Research program is to reduce the social and economic burden of neurological and mental health problems through prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment. This year, the 20 grant recipients are investigating a diverse range of brain disorders and diseases, ranging from studying gene therapy for Huntington Disease to examining the brain structures behind eating disorders in adolescents.

“As a nation, we are among the world’s five most active countries in neuroscience,” says Brain Canada President and CEO, Dr. Viviane Poupon. “By funding early-career research in conditions ranging from epilepsy to depression to multiple sclerosis, Canadian researchers will continue to contribute to major scientific advancements in brain science that will further the field both nationally and internationally.”

In its third year, these Canadian-based projects have been made possible by the Canada Brain Research Fund (CBRF), an innovative arrangement between the Government of Canada (through Health Canada) and Brain Canada Foundation, and the Azrieli Foundation, the Alvin Segal Family Foundation, The Arrell Family Foundation, The Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust, and The Erika Legacy Foundation.