Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

New levels of collaboration and co-ordination will optimize investments and build a stronger brain research ecosystem.Getty Images

Canadian researchers are world leaders in many areas of neuroscience and mental health at a time when the explosion in knowledge about the brain is setting the stage for dramatic breakthroughs.

At the same time, Canadian excellence alone is not enough to ensure the nation remains on the leading edge of brain research. Years of chronic underfunding of R&D and the absence of a co-ordinating targeted national strategy mean that Canada’s ability to keep up with brain-related advances is at risk.

A broad coalition of Canadian organizations involved in all aspects of brain health and research is proposing a solution to this challenge, the Canadian Brain Research Strategy (CBRS) – an innovative approach to brain-research investments designed to build on Canadian strengths and help Canada remain competitive globally.

“Data on the brain is accumulating at an unprecedented rate, and with new tools like AI, the world is on the verge of a new era in brain science,” says Dr. Jennie Z. Young, executive director of CBRS. “For Canada to seize this opportunity, we need a holistic approach to brain health and research, one that covers the entire lifespan and recognizes the interconnectedness of brain disorders.”

Canada has national strategies for dementia and for autism, Young explains. “Those strategies are necessary, and now we need to unify those efforts. We don’t have the right systems in place to ensure knowledge is quickly shared so that all areas with overlapping interests benefit, as in the strong linkages between Alzheimer’s disease and depression. That’s why we need an overarching national strategy.”

The coalition members who came together to develop the strategy include university research centres across the country, research funding agencies, charitable health organizations, patient advocacy organizations, Indigenous Knowledges Holders and private companies. Areas of expertise range from Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, spinal cord injury and brain tumours to mood disorders, addiction and research ethics.

Yes, we absolutely need more research grants. At the same time, we also need more investments not tied to a certain centre, project or research topic – investments in co-ordination, research support personnel and other forms of infrastructure that enable more collaboration and sharing of skills and knowledge.

Dr. Jennie Z. Young
Executive Director, Canadian Brain Research Strategy

A pressing scientific challenge

The stakeholders share a belief that optimizing brain health is one of the most pressing scientific and societal challenges of our time.

According to world data, more than 7.5 million Canadians reported living with a neurological or mental health disorder in 2019, a number that is growing rapidly since the COVID-19 pandemic and with aging demographics. The coalition notes that brain conditions pose a significant burden on individuals, families, care partners, our society, global productivity and the economy.

Finding solutions to prevent and treat brain conditions is critical, but brain research extends much further, Young says.

“Our brains are at the centre of everything we do and who we are. Every Canadian deserves to be able to operate at their full potential with a healthy brain. We need to recognize that our brains are like a natural resource that needs to be supported and developed to build a more productive and healthier society.”

People and research infrastructure

The CBRS coalition has developed a detailed framework to catalyze new levels of progress in brain and mental health research.

A key premise is to strengthen the brain research “ecosystem” across the country, similar to the strategies the government supports for artificial intelligence and quantum technologies. The coalition calls for long-term, stable and flexible funding to cultivate a highly skilled brain science workforce and build infrastructure to unite research and translation efforts across Canada.

The complexity surrounding brain and neuroscience research requires co-ordination and close collaboration between all stakeholders as well as strong partnerships between the public and private sectors. Dedicated research funding for brain health must be a priority at intergovernmental, national and regional levels and should be both driven and supported by governments.

World Health Organization

“Many organizations have been funding platforms for large datasets, but not everyone who could benefit can access the data,” explains Young. “We need to expand connections, whether virtual or in-person, so research centres of all sizes benefit from these investments.

“Yes, we absolutely need more research grants. At the same time, we also need more investments not tied to a certain centre, project or research topic – investments in co-ordination, research support personnel and other forms of infrastructure that enable more collaboration and sharing of skills and knowledge.”

Young says Canada is uniquely positioned to thrive with this type of approach. “Canadian brain researchers are used to collaborating outside traditional areas and across disciplines. Taking the next step with strategic investments will help deliver more brain innovations and breakthrough treatments to all Canadians.”


Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

Interact with The Globe