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Mapping the human brain sheds light on autism

January 25, 2012

Lecture series launches by delving into Canada’s world-leading expertise in brain research

Vancouver, January 25, 2012 — Canadian researchers are leading the way in the search for the cause of autism, a condition affecting about one in every 200 people in Canada. The Canada Foundation for Innovation, Dialogues at UBC Robson Square, will highlight Dr. Alan Evans, one Canadian researcher making a difference in brain research.  

“Clinicians are typically unable to diagnose autism until the third year of life,” says researcher Alan Evans of McGill University’s McConnell Brain Imaging Centre. “However, the earlier we can identify any developmental abnormalities the more possible interventions we have in our arsenal.”

Evans and his colleagues are currently working with American researchers to map the brains of 500 younger siblings of autistic children. Statistically, about 15 to 20 percent of the younger siblings of autistic children will develop autism spectrum disorder themselves.

By regularly monitoring the brains of those younger siblings from birth, researchers hope to be able to pinpoint what changes take place in the brains of the children who develop the disorder. This better understanding will help identify the causes and lead to prevention and treatment.

According to Autism Society Canada, the causes of autism spectrum disorder are not fully understood, but it is generally accepted that it is a neurological problem.

The sibling autism study is just one example of the cutting-edge research that taps into Canada’s growing expertise in the brain imaging field and makes use of its sophisticated telecommunications system, which links computers across the country to a super-computer network with the power to perform complex data calculations.

“It’s one thing to collect data,” says Evans, “and quite another to turn that data into useful knowledge. Increasingly, the limiting factor in leading-edge research is computing power. The more computer capacity they have, the better scientists are able to turn data into knowledge.”

Canada’s unique combination of human and digital brainpower will be featured at the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s first Dialogues at UBC Robson Square lecture series Today at UBC Robson Square in Vancouver, BC. 

In the lead-up to the American Association for the Advancement of Science this February in Vancouver, the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the University of British Columbia are teaming up to present a four-part lecture series celebrating Canadian innovation. These lectures will cover a range of Canadian research, from sustainability, to child development, to quantum computing. Details are available at www.innovation.ca.

About the Canada Foundation for Innovation

The Canada Foundation for Innovation gives researchers the tools they need to think big and innovate. By investing in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment in Canada’s universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research institutions, the CFI is helping to attract and retain the world’s top talent, to train the next generation of researchers, to support private-sector innovation and to create high-quality jobs that strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life for all Canadians. For more information, visit innovation.ca.

For more information or interview requests contact
Ryan Saxby Hill
ryansaxbyhill@innovation.ca
613-294-6247 (mobile)

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