../Morning Post
Posted May 18 , 2010
Research Chair Appointment


New Canada Excellence Research Chair Awarded $10 Million

London – One of the world’s foremost neuroscientists, Adrian Owen, has been recruited to The University of Western Ontario as a Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) and will bring his remarkable research program from Cambridge University.

Owen, who was awarded $10 million from the federal government’s CERC program to conduct his research in Canada, will bring with him his entire research team.

Building on more than 20 years of pioneering work in cognitive neuroscience, Owen generated widespread international attention in February for a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that demonstrated for the first time that some patients in a vegetative state may not only have cognitive thoughts, but can also communicate.

In April, Owen again attracted international attention for a study published in the prestigious journal, Nature, which showed ‘brain training’ video games do not make people smarter.

"Adrian Owen's recruitment further strengthens an established core of scientists at Western who have a global reputation for excellence and major breakthroughs in cognitive neuroscience and imaging," says Western’s President, Amit Chakma. "Our ability to attract Dr. Owen reflects a strategic investment in not only one of the absolute top scientists in his field, but in Canada's firm commitment to maintaining a leadership role in research, education and health."

As the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Neuroscience and Imaging, Owen will study the cognitive deficits – problems in perceiving, thinking, reasoning and remembering – in patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s and ALS. Drawing on Western’s expertise in genetics, cognitive neuroscience, neurology and brain imaging, he will also explore the causes of neurodegenerative diseases, with the goal of improving early detection and treatment.

Owen uses techniques that are extremely complementary to research in conscious and unconscious perception led by Melvyn Goodale, Ravi Menon and colleagues at Western’s Centre for Brain & Mind. Western and Robarts are also home to one of the world’s most comprehensive arrays of MRI instruments – which are central to Owen’s work – including Canada’s only 7 Tesla (7T) functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) system.

Owen’s areas of study reinforce international strengths in cognitive neuroscience and imaging at Western and Robarts, providing a solid foundation for future research with fMRI. His efforts will also improve healthcare delivery for brain-injured patients across Canada, affecting diagnosis and clinical care, medical ethics and medical and legal decision making about life after severe brain injury.

“This is the place to be for advanced neuroscience research,” Owen says. “The opportunity to work closely with world-class colleagues, the best equipment available and to have patients nearby that my work can help drew me to London and will make it easier for me to achieve my research objectives – and to push the envelope even further.”

Prior to coming to Western, Owen was a senior scientist and assistant director of the prestigious Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge. His work there, and at the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre at Cambridge University, used functional neuroimaging to explore attention, memory and control in brain-injured patients and healthy volunteers.

Western has also hired Owen’s wife, Jessica Grahn – a noted neuroscientist in her own right – who is examining ties between music and the brain. Grahn, who is interested in how musical rhythm is processed in the brain and how musical rhythm differs from processing of other types of temporal sequences, will be appointed to Western’s department of Psychology.

“Attracting Dr. Owen and his team is a coup not only for the academic community, but for Canada as a whole,” says Ted Hewitt, Western’s Vice-President (Research & International Relations). “The federal government funded the CERC program to attract the very best and brightest, and has helped the University bring Dr. Owen’s world-class research program to London in a move that will stand out in Western’s history.”

Owen, who will start in London on January 1, 2011, will become a member of Western's world-renowned Centre for Brain & Mind, an interdisciplinary cognitive neuroscience initiative bringing together leading research and Canada's most advanced centre for imaging technologies. Led by the Faculty of Social Science and Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, including the brain imaging program at Robarts, the Centre's researchers are clarifying how the brain turns intention and thought into action."

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