In building a case for further investment in neuroscience and mental health research, six areas of distinction in how Canada approaches brain research have been identified over multiple meetings in consultation with neuroscience and mental health leaders and key stakeholders across the country. These strategic focus areas are representative of Canada’s collaborative, transdisciplinary, and open approach to brain research that allows us to be a leader and role model on the international stage. They cross boundaries of research approaches, including biological, environmental, behavioural, and social perspectives. Building on these strategic focus areas have the potential to transform neuroscience and mental health research by bridging scales of complexity across the brain, behaviour, and society.
Foundational infrastructure supports these focus areas to allow us to maximize the impact of bringing together the diverse Canadian neuroscience and mental health research ecosystem through shared knowledge, infrastructure, and data. Communications & Outreach will enable two-way discussion and learning between researchers, non-academic community, general audiences, and decision makers to maximize the sharing of information and networking power across all stakeholders. Mapping & Leveraging Collaboration in the neuroscience and mental health ecosystem will avoid duplication of efforts, bring forth best practices, and maximize collaboration across all sectors.
Read more about each of the strategic focus areas below. Here are some examples of the kind of brain research we could envision.
Open science stems from the idea that scientific knowledge of all kinds – from data to instructions for scientific procedures, materials, tools and software for analysis – should be shared as early as practical in the discovery process. A key part of the open science process is to ensure that these sorts of scientific information are publicly available, easily accessible, and discoverable for others to use and build on. An open and transparent approach to science acts to eliminate barriers to collaboration between all levels of researchers and the innovation ecosystem, and enables better patient and community engagement. This approach is invaluable to neuroscience and mental health research, as understanding a complex organ like the brain requires massive amounts of data from multiple researchers and institutions. Canada is already a demonstrated leader in the international open science movement, with many Canadian initiatives and programs recognizing the value in open science.
Ensuring the fair treatment and opportunity for all in the research environment, research team, and research design leads to better scientific research. Diversity is enabling the presence of a range of identities, as well as diversity of perspectives and lived experiences, at all stages of the research process. Equity means ensuring that everyone has access to the same opportunities, and includes removing systemic barriers to participation. Inclusion is the practice of ensuring that all individuals are valued and respected for their contributions and are equally supported. Establishing best practices in DEI is not only ethically important, but is critical to research excellence. Due to the complexity of the brain, neuroscience is an inherently collaborative field that lends itself well to ensuring that DEI principles are incorporated in a measurable way and accounted for in the team approach.
Neuroethics focuses on the ethical, legal, and social issues raised by our continuously advancing understanding of the brain. In order to encourage the most beneficial uses of neuroscience and mental health research, it is essential to examine its actual capabilities, potential risks, benefits and broader social impact. Knowing how these factors interact with ongoing research helps create guidelines and best practices for neuroscience going forward. Canada is already considered a global leader in neuroethics, with a broad variety of existing programs including those that explore brain-related health conditions, healthcare, policy, commercialization, and online health information. We are making discoveries about the brain at an incredible pace. Continuing and expanding these efforts in neuroethics is key to ensuring Canadian values are well reflected in this rapidly advancing landscape.
With the complex nature of the brain, neuroscience and mental health research is an area of biomedical science that pushes technological needs to their extreme. Scientific platforms act as centralized shared resources – providing open access to specialized equipment, data, service and expertise (to make use of equipment and data) and giving access to cutting edge techniques that are generally too expensive, complex, or specialized for any single researcher to carry out on their own. Breaking down geographical and institutional barriers to creating and sharing new brain research tools, technologies, and methods through platforms also promotes equity and collaboration to multiply the innovation and productivity of research. Research platforms are one way that Canada can be a world leader in neuroscience and mental health research even with a relatively smaller population and less research funding than other countries.
Now more than ever, breakthroughs in neuroscience depend on the combined efforts of scientists from many disciplines – from biologists to physical and computational scientists, and social scientists and the humanities. Transdisciplinary research also goes beyond academia and involves stakeholders from policy, civil society and other non-academic groups. In order to make these crucial discoveries, a new generation of scientists is needed to connect these other fields with neuroscience and mental health research. Transdisciplinary training is needed to that ensure experts in various disciplines can speak the same language and learn how to work effectively with each other. Establishing training and support for the new generation will keep Canadian neuroscience at the forefront on the international stage.
The early beginnings of artificial intelligence (AI) grew from our understanding of basic human brain function. AI is now rapidly becoming an invaluable tool in neuroscience and mental health research, generating new knowledge that informs our understanding of how the brain works. This new knowledge, in turn, can be applied to improve our models of AI and to more sophisticated tools to advance our understanding of the brain. Learning can go both ways and this mutually beneficial relationship between neuroscience and AI can be strengthened by bringing the two fields closer together. Progress in each of these fields is not just critical for the other, but also valuable for the other fields and industries that rely on them.