Pictured: Dr. Catharine Rankin presents at NeuroFutures 2017, an event supported by the Dynamic Brain Circuits in Health and Disease Research Excellence Cluster. Image credit: Dr. Jason Snyder.

Educational Neuroscience

“Educational neuroscience is really an emerging field – with just five centres around the world, we’re proud to be the sixth, and the first in Canada,” says Dr. Lara Boyd. “So far, it’s been fascinating to learn from our colleagues in the field.”

Dr. Boyd and several other researchers at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health are currently taking part in initiatives that aim to accelerate discovery around brain health issues, from how the brain rewires itself after injury, to how the brain adapts to learning and change.

“It’s exciting to be part of such an interdisciplinary team,” says Dr. Boyd, whose Educational Neuroscience research cluster has recruited thought leaders from the faculties of Education, Law, Arts and Medicine. “We’re looking at so much more than just the science of how kids learn; we want to know how plasticity affects education, but that encompasses everything from government policy, to legal frameworks, to teacher education. It’s huge.”

Dr. Boyd’s cluster is already engaged in three longitudinal studies that consider the impact of learning disability on neuroplasticity, social and emotional learning, and executive functions. The group received additional funding from the Faculty of Medicine Dean’s Office related to the Healthy Child Initiative.

“We’re working quite closely with Dr. Kim Schonert-Reichl and the Human Early Learning Partnership, and are looking forward to working with two teachers from the Vancouver School Board who have been seconded as ‘teachers-in-residence’ to the cluster in the fall,” says Dr. Boyd. “We’re excited to see how our work translates into real-world teaching, and to establish an ongoing relationship with the teachers themselves.”

The Educational Neuroscience Research Cluster aims to uncover new ways of understanding the neurodiversity of learners, and to alter approaches to educating children as well as their future teachers, and to facilitate evidence-based decision-making to support and promote children’s social and emotional development.

For more information on cluster activities, email Katherine White at k.white@alumni.ubc.ca or Bernadette Hii at bernadette.hii@ubc.ca.

Dynamic Brain Circuits in Health and Disease

Dr. Tim Murphy leads the Dynamic Brain Circuits in Health and Disease cluster, which comprises experts from the faculties of Science, Applied Science, Arts, Medicine, and spans departments from mechanical engineering to pathology.

“Our team is working toward the first circuit-based treatments for brain disease,” says Dr. Murphy. “We’re mapping the brain’s connectome – the ‘wiring’ that underlies all brain function – to better understand behaviour and how the brain is altered by disease.”

For over a year, the cluster has been active in training and hosting events in neurophotonics, computational neuroscience, brain clearing, and more.

“It has been our priority to build collaborative opportunities with faculty in a range of disciplines at the University of British Columbia and in the greater Cascadia Neuroscience Community,” says Dr. Murphy.

Dr. Murphy’s team has offered funding for student development and training opportunities, and looks forward to providing support for trainees to attend workshops and conferences such as NeuroFutures, which he hosted at UBC last year. The cluster hosts training opportunities of its own, with weekly “databinges,” that aim to inform and promote collaboration between diverse members of the UBC neuroscience community.

In 2017, the cluster provided funding for 22 students to participate in courses and conferences. Opportunities included NeuroFutures 2017 and a related Brain Clearing workshop, as well as activities on the Human Connectome, Human Brain Mapping, and Frontiers in Neurophotonics.

For more information on cluster activities, visit braincircuits.ubc.ca or email Nate Powell at brain.circuits@ubc.ca.

Physical Activity for Precision Health

Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose is leading the effort to personalize physical activity in the context of healthcare and medicine, both as prevention and therapeutic intervention.

“The concept of precision medicine has mainly referred to the field of pharmacogenomics,” says Dr. Liu-Ambrose. The term “precision medicine” refers to a tailored approach to medical treatment that incorporates an individual’s genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors in assessments of health and disease. “Relatively few data and scientific effort exist regarding the application of preventive strategies such as physical activity in the context precision medicine. Precision prescription of physical activity will require a better understanding of individual variability, moderators, mediators, and interaction effects.”

Dr. Liu-Ambrose is currently leading a team of researchers spanning the faculties of Medicine, Applied Sciences, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Education, plus the School of Population and Public Health, UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Management, the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University, and researchers at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute at the University of Washington.

“Our research will transform the science and application of physical activity at the individual level by facilitating conversations between experts in personalized medicine and members of our team to lay the groundwork for how precision prescription of physical activity can succeed,” says Dr. Liu-Ambrose.

The cluster has begun outreach activities including a speaker series, and plans to host a trainee networking event in the future.

“This is an exciting research partnership and we’re looking forward to influencing and advancing the way that physical activity is prescribed and practiced,” Dr. Liu-Ambrose says. “Our hope is that our findings inform better physical, mental and social wellbeing across the lifespan.”

For more information on cluster activities, please email Stephanie Doherty at cogmob.research@hiphealth.ca.


UBC Research Excellence Clusters bring together researchers across a wide range of faculties and departments at the University of British Columbia to collaborate on and advance a particular area of research. For researchers at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, that means disrupting what we know about how the brain grows, learns, changes, and heals with age, injury, education, and rehabilitation.

The UBC Research Clusters Initiative currently supports 33 distinct research clusters, five of which are led by members of the UBC neuroscience community.

Launched in 2016, the UBC Research Excellence Clusters program is supported by the Office of Vice-President, Academic and Provost and the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, with financial contributions from the UBC Excellence Fund.