The Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health Kickstart Grants are intended to encourage research that demonstrates new collaborations, directions, and technological developments. It supports new projects that generate preliminary data for future grant applications to external funding agencies.

Congratulations to the DMCBH researchers and their teams who have received this year’s Kickstart Grants!


Drs. Mark Cembrowski, Nozomu Yachie and Geoffrey Schiebinger:
Applying unprecedented-scale spatial transcriptomics to understand the single-cell organization of the human neocortex

Understanding the molecular-cellular organization of the human brain is a central goal of fundamental neuroscience, and carries immense opportunity for translational and clinical applications. This project will apply cutting-edge spatial transcriptomics technology called GPS-seq to human brain samples, and generate a state-of-the-art spatial map of the human neocortex at a single-cell resolution. Results can help in understanding the organization of the human neocortex and help identify potential next-generation therapeutic targets and treatments for epilepsy.


Drs. Douglas Altshuler and Miriam Spering:
Eye movements during complex locomotion

The Accessory Optic System (AOS) is a visuomotor circuit that has an important role in stabilizing eye movements, in response to large-field visual signals known as optic flow. The AOS sends direct projections to the cerebellum and other pre-motor areas of the brain, which suggests that it is also the most likely candidate pathway for rapid, whole-body stabilizing movements. This project will form a new collaboration between the Altshuler and Spering labs for understanding how the AOS contributes to both whole body and eye movements, and how these two movement systems interact to optimize behaviour when subjected to complex optic flow.


Drs. Hee Yeon Im, Deborah Giaschi, Rebecca Todd and Daniela Palombo:
Combining MEG and fMRI for multimodal functional neuroimaging in pediatric brain research

Functional neuroimaging techniques, such as functional MRI (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG), are non-invasive tools to examine typical and atypical brain development, informing clinicians and researchers of possible neural anomalies. Because behavioural signs are often discovered much later than the onset of alterations in the brain, finding disrupted brain functions using neuroimaging techniques allows for identification of neurodevelopmental disorders. This project will combine MEG and fMRI to obtain temporal and spatial properties of brain activity, leveraging complementary information on when and where neural activity occurs during cognitive tasks and at rest and to develop neurocognitive biomarkers for abnormal brain development.


Drs. Christian Schütz, Trisha Chakrabarty and Dongwook Yoon:
Advanced Virtual Application for Treatment And Rehabilitation (AVATAR) of Patients with Severe Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

People with concurrent disorders (PCD; i.e. co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders) constitute one of the most vulnerable and hard to reach patient groups. With the increasing interest in virtualized therapy, avatar-assisted therapy (AAT) is a promising and cost-effective way of expanding treatment access for PCD. AAT has been shown to enhance mental health and substance use treatment outcomes. The “avatars” (or user-controlled virtual characters) act like social buffers that foster interest, acceptance, and mutual peer support, softening barriers to treatment engagement (such as social stigma and anxiety) with the promise to make treatments for PCD like group therapy more effective. This project aims to assess the feasibility and acceptability of this approach for this specific patient group and can also provide useful data on future virtual mental health platform technologies.


Drs. Manu Madhav and Jeremy Seamans:
Decoding the neural basis of contextual action in navigation

Neural representations are the combined activity states of populations of neurons. Representations in various regions of the brain such as hippocampus and associational cortices can encode sensorimotor or cognitive variables such as space, time, attention, contexts or actions. This project will focus on navigation (i.e. “actions in context”) to investigate both how the hippocampal formation represents task-relevant variables and how the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) modulates the actions associated with these variables when faced with a continuously changing context. Dr. Madhav’s expertise in large experimental apparatuses and closed-loop behavioural and neural manipulation will be leveraged alongside Dr. Seamans’ expertise in cortical recordings and statistical ‘big-data’ analyses to quantify the role of the hippocampus and ACC.