Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging
Ottawa, Ontario, Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Thank you for that kind introduction, and a special welcome to all of you who have travelled to Ottawa for this forum.
First, a word on this wonderful hospital, which has a history of caring and compassion dating back 170 years to its founder, Élisabeth Bruyère.
Who was she?
A member of the famous Grey Nuns, she dedicated her life to easing the suffering of others. She established both the Sisters of Charity of Bytown and the first bilingual school in Ontario in the 19th century.
In short, she was a pioneer in both learning and caregiving, so I think it’s fitting that you’ve gathered here to advance our efforts to understand and treat neurodegeneration in aging.
What an important initiative this is.
The facts surrounding this urgent health matter are plain.
An estimated 35 percent of people aged 80 years and up will suffer from dementia. And because of the aging populations and longer lifespans we’re seeing in G8 countries, it’s estimated that the number of people suffering from dementia will double by 2050.
The number’s even higher in low- and middle-income countries due to the decline in infectious disease rates.
Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, affects not only those who are directly afflicted, but also their families, loved ones and caregivers.
We all understand how devastating it can be.
That’s why this ambitious international collaboration is so valuable. I gain a real sense of hope when I think of all of the outstanding partners and scientific minds attending this consortium.
You have such wonderful potential to learn and discover together.
I’d like to talk a little about the importance of working together across borders and disciplines, or “partnering for impact,” as the organizers of this panel have phrased it.
This approach can lead to exciting breakthroughs in brain research.
I learned of a great example of this earlier this year, when I presented the John C. Polanyi Award to a researcher named Chris Eliasmith.
Perhaps you know of the work he and his team of researchers have done.
Dr. Eliasmith, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Theoretical Neuroscience, is a philosopher, a systems design engineer, a computer scientist and a neuroscientist.
He’s all of these things at once, which only makes sense, given his subject matter:
The human brain and what makes it tick.
Dr. Eliasmith received the John C. Polanyi Award for the work he and his team have done building a computer model of the human brain.
Its name is Spaun—that’s spelled S-P-A-U-N—and it makes human-like mistakes, has human-like accuracy, and takes human-like lengths of time to process information.
In his acceptance speech, Dr. Eliasmith made reference to the fact that he was probably the first philosopher to win the John C. Polanyi Award, and he paid tribute to a long list of collaborators from various disciplines with whom he has worked.
He said: “With something as complex as the brain, you have to throw everything you’ve got at it.”
To my mind, that’s exactly what this consortium is doing. You come from different backgrounds and perspectives and you’re throwing everything you’ve got at the challenge of neurodegeneration in aging.
I know that Dr. Alain Beaudet, the President of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, is a strong believer in this kind of collaboration.
He also understands the need for global partnership, information-sharing and pooling of resources.
In fact, Dr. Beaudet was a valuable member of our Canadian delegation to China and Mongolia in 2013, where this kind of diplomacy of knowledge, as I like to call it, was a constant theme in our discussions and roundtables.
I applaud the national and international collaboration on dementia research being fostered here.
This is a global health priority, and there’s something very apt in the image of people forming knowledge networks that span the entire globe to unlock the mysteries of the human brain.
My message to you is this: keep going.
Strengthen and expand your ties, and seek out those sometimes unorthodox partnerships that can lead to unexpected breakthroughs.
On behalf of all Canadians, I want to thank you for your important efforts.
I wish you the very best.