Section of Translational Neuroscience

Assistant Professor Dr. Hedwich Kuipers — a new recruit to the Section of Translational Neuroscience — spars with husband and fellow jiu-jitsu student Andy.

Dr. V. Wee Yong

Section Head: Dr. V. Wee Yong

THE SECTION OF TRANSLATIONAL NEUROSCIENCE (STN) in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences (DCNS) consists of primary members distinguished by their PhD background. 

In the past year we have been joined by a new assistant professor recruited from Stanford University, Dr. Hedwich Kuipers, and by the new director of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI), who relocated from the University of Ottawa, Dr. David Park. 

We now have seven primary members in the division, a substantial growth. Research areas of STN members include neurodegenerative diseases, movement disorders and multiple sclerosis (MS), with a focus on understanding the pathogenesis of these disorders and the discovery and translation of new therapies into the clinic. These therapies include those that may reduce injury to the compromised nervous system and those to promote brain repair.

Members of STN include: 

  • Dr. V. Wee Yong is a professor who co-directs the MS NeuroTeam of HBI and he is the director of the Alberta MS Network. Dr. Yong was the president of the International Society of Neuroimmunology (2014-2016) and he continues to run the society’s international schools. Dr. Yong’s research interests have been guided by MS, spinal cord injury and malignant gliomas, and findings have been translated into clinical trials in these conditions. These translational activities include a recent publication of minocycline in MS with neurology collaborator Dr. Luanne Metz (New Engl J Medicine 376:2122, 2017), and a recently funded CIHR grant with neuro-oncologists Drs. Paula de Robles and Gloria Roldan Urgoiti to test niacin (to restimulate compromised immunity) in glioblastoma. Dr. Yong’s publications have been cited over 19,000 times (Web of Science, h index: 78). His research activities are supported by CIHR, the MS Society of Canada, and the Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions (AIHS) CRIO Team program. Dr. Yong is the recipient of the 2017 Allyn Taylor International Prize in Medicine for “transformational discoveries in MS”.
  • Dr. Minh Dang Nguyen received a CIHR Operating Grant (~$987K for five years – 2018-2023) to investigate the roles of the Alzheimer’s disease predisposition factor CD2AP in cerebrovascular dysfunction. The project is being led by Dr. Milene Vandal, a CIHR postdoctoral fellow. Dr. Nguyen also successfully graduated one master candidate, Colin Gunn, whose thesis defense was described as “the best I have seen both at the Master and PhD levels (sic)” by his external committee member. Colin Gunn has been nominated for a Governor General’s Gold Medal Award and for a Distinguished Thesis Award from the Western Association of Graduate Schools. He is now in medical school at the University of Western Ontario and does research during the summer.
  • Dr. Shalina Ousman is an associate professor and a member of the MS and Spinal Cord/Nerve Injury and Pain Programs of HBI. Her research is focused on investigating endogenous protective mechanisms in MS and peripheral nerve regeneration. In regards to her MS work, Dr. Ousman is investigating the molecular factors that drive dysfunction of astrocytes as well as sex dimorphism in the disease. Her peripheral nerve injury studies are focused on understanding why Schwann cells become dysfunctional in the aging injured peripheral nervous system. Her research is currently funded by CIHR and the MS Society of Canada.
  • Dr. Bin Hu is a professor specializing in Parkinson’s disease research. He is a member of the HBI, he directs a basic research laboratory and he oversees an experimental therapeutic program for patients living with Parkinson’s disease. His scholarly activities and research interests are focused on brain attention networks, especially those related to sensorimotor learning and memory. His research has been supported by CIHR, Parkinson Association of Alberta, AIHS and Branch-out Foundation for Neurological Diseases. Dr. Hu’s Ambulosono research has been reported in Nature Parkinson’s Disease and featured at the recent HBI Brain, Mind And Music Symposium where Ms. Renee Fleming and Dr. Hu were keynote speakers.
  • Dr. Oury Monchi is a professor, the Clinical Research Director of DCNS, the Research Director of the Movement Disorders Program of HBI, and the Tourmaline Oil Chair in Parkinson’s disease. His laboratory has been a pioneer in using different neuroimaging techniques to study the origins and evolution of cognitive deficits in Parkinson’s disease with the ultimate goal of the early prediction of dementia in the disease. Interactions between cognitive and neuropsychiatric symptoms, and non-medication therapies such as transcranial magnetic stimulation and cognitive training are also being explored. Dr. Monchi is the Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. His research is funded by CIHR, NSERC, and Parkinson Canada. 
  • Dr. Hedwich Kuipers is an assistant professor of neuroimmunology and joined the HBI MS NeuroTeam in April of 2018, holding a membership at the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases as well. Her research is aimed at understanding the interaction between immune cells entering the CNS and its resident cells. Her main focus is on astrocytes, whose role in neuroinflammation is often overlooked. She has shown before that these cells, which are highly abundant in the brain, can release factors that help T lymphocytes infiltrate into CNS tissue. She currently investigates how astrocytes interact with these T cells and how they shape their responses, using molecular and cell biology approaches, as well as animal models of MS. Dr. Kuipers’s research has previously been supported by the Human Frontier Science Program, NIH and the National MS Society.

Education

Members offer graduate, postdoctoral and clinical fellowship studies in both clinical and basic neurosciences, year-round research projects for senior undergraduates and summer research programs.

Translational Program

STN is in a unique position to foster cutting edge translational neuroscience research. We are somewhat different from the basic science departments in that our program has a clear mandate to facilitate and integrate research and education and to ensure that discoveries in basic and clinical research can lead to innovative health solutions for Canadians. 

In that light, work by our members, in collaboration with our neurology, neuro-oncology and neurosurgery colleagues, has resulted in a successful Phase III clinical trial in MS, an ongoing Phase III trial in traumatic spinal cord injury, and a soon-to-start Phase I/IIa trial of niacin in glioblastoma. A $5 million team grant from AIHS, led by one of our members and which includes several clinical colleagues, has enabled us to initiate and continue clinical trials of potential remyelinating therapies in MS.