Growing and Learning

The brain has a remarkable ability to adapt to new information. This is what allows us to learn.

OBI is no different, and like the brain, we too adapt to new information and learn from experience.  Since inception, our goal, to make Ontario a world leader in brain research, commercialization, and care, has remained consistent. We aim to create positive change by supporting the innovations in brain health that will improve people’s lives. Funding science with impact has always been our top priority.

So how close are we to achieving this goal and what have we learned?

If we consider OBI’s collaborative and multidisciplinary approach to research to be an experiment, we have learned a few things over the last decade. Some of our assumptions about this research model proved to be correct:

Long-term and stable network funding creates excellent research opportunities. It brings new perspectives into research, like the involvement of patients, industry partners, and early career investigators or trainees. It also increases Ontario’s visibility on the international stage and attracts new collaborators and funding to Ontario to strengthen its research capabilities. In the last three years alone, these research networks have leveraged over $117 million in additional funding to support their research.

Standardizing data allows new types of questions to be asked. We are seeing many new examples of research that breaks ground in the underlying biology of brain disorders like the identification of genetic risk factors for cerebral palsy and the role of genomic copy number variants in neurodevelopmental disorders.

De-risking investment in neurotech grows a neurotech cluster which creates jobs and helps bring new products to market. Over the last decade OBI’s 86 portfolio companies have brought 19 products to market, like mobility devices and clinically validated apps for mental health, helping improve both the health of individuals and the economy.

Other outcomes of the research model didn’t bear as quickly as intended: an integrated approach would organically lead to research improving clinical practice, data sharing would naturally lead to cross-disorder research questions, research evidence would consistently inform policies for better brain health. In reflection, these are important outcomes that do not simply emerge spontaneously from a collaborative network. Thinking from a system perspective we now realize it will take more targeted investments into new programs, different funding support, and broader expertise from other partners to generate these outcomes faster. Putting the right pieces in place is important given the growing societal impact of brain disorders.

Where we are going

We believe that within the next thirty years we will understand the molecular underpinnings of the brain disorders that affect one in three Ontarians. Population-level screening will be routine through the discovery of risk factors and early, prevention-oriented interventions. Diagnoses will be made and even anticipated based on the molecular fingerprint of disease. A new generation of disease-modifying drugs and technologies will have flooded the market. Treatment strategies employed to harness the brain’s inherent plasticity will facilitate recovery from injury. There will be vast improvements to overall population health with brain disorders being diagnosed earlier, slowed, and even prevented. Citizens will be empowered with knowledge and tools to be proactive in maintaining their brain health. Ontario’s policies related to brain health will inform and be informed by this transformation. The impact of these advances on quality of life, cost of care, and impact on the economy cannot be overstated.

We plan to engage our stakeholders and discuss how we can continue to work towards this vision and create the positive impacts in brain health we all want to see. Over the next several months we will begin discussions about what we are doing well, what we need to start doing, and what we should stop. In fact, we already started this conversation at our last Patient Advisory Committee workshop in June. We will also collect feedback through an impact assessment that will help us understand which of our current programs and supports create the biggest impacts for our stakeholders.

Growing and being open to new ideas

Renewal presents an exciting opportunity to incorporate lessons learned, engage with the ever-growing expertise across the province, and ensure our focus is trained on maximizing value for people living with brain disorders. As a publicly funded organization, it is important that we continue to demonstrate transparency and inclusiveness. Our model has always focused on building and nurturing partnerships.

We want to achieve even better integration of research, commercialization, and the patient community while collecting and using data for improvements in brain health and economic prosperity. An open and competitive process will provide all Ontario-based networks an opportunity to put forward plans that align with these goals. Much has changed in the Ontario neuroscience and brain health landscape in the last decade and we want to ensure that we continue to harness Ontario’s excellence by building strong collaborations.

Like the brain that continuously develops new connections and strengthens existing ones, OBI will continue to grow new collaborations, adapting and learning as we do.

A Decade Older, A Decade Wiser

Ten years ago, the Ontario Brain Institute (OBI) was established with a goal of improving brain health for the 1 in 3 Ontarians directly impacted by brain disorders. As we look back, we’re certain that our formula for collaborative discovery and innovation works and that we are on course to advance brain health. But along the way we’ve learned a lot by testing assumptions, collecting feedback from our stakeholders, and gathering data that will help us chart the course for the next phase. While there are many insights we could share, a few stand out which will help us focus our activities through this funding cycle and the next. And they all revolve around how we work with people, which is when you think about it makes sense for an organization that is focused on building relationships and supporting collaborations.

We have learnt to appreciate that showing direct impact of work on the people and the community is as important as strong performance metrics. We’ve seen that patient engagement improves the quality of research and makes its outputs more meaningful. And lastly, we must listen to the needs of our stakeholders and build systems to help them succeed. Continue reading “A Decade Older, A Decade Wiser”

How to Transform a Promising Idea from the Lab to Life

OBI is working towards creating an inclusive society for neurodiverse people that accommodates a vast range of needs. In the last decade alone, we have seen plenty of promising tech coming out of Ontario’s neurotech cluster. Entrepreneurs and researchers are coming up with creative solutions to directly address barriers that exist for people with brain disorders in becoming active members of society.

Put simply, these advancements in neurotechnology are the result of us getting better at taking a great idea developed in the lab and translating it into a tangible tool that can help people lead fuller lives. Continue reading “How to Transform a Promising Idea from the Lab to Life”

Sleep and its impact on Brain Health

Everyone needs sleep, but its biological purpose remains a mystery. Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance.

Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake. And we know for certain that a chronic lack of sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, increases the risk of disorders including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.

Sleep has the power to define the course of our day, so why not learn to sleep better? Continue reading “Sleep and its impact on Brain Health”

Why Patient Engagement Matters in Improving Brain Health?


1. Lived experience offers valuable insight on what matters

“Being a part of OBI’s Patient Advisory Committee has provided me the opportunity to increase my own knowledge base while being able to share my opinions and thoughts – the ability to contribute a broader personal perspective, based on my lived experience and professional experience towards research projects” says Shelly LaForest. Shelly is a parent of three – two of whom have epilepsy, a practicing Registered Nurse at The Hospital for Sick Children and a member of OBI’s Data Access Committee and Community Advisory Committee (CAC) for EpLink. Continue reading “Why Patient Engagement Matters in Improving Brain Health?”

Care in the Digital Age

The shift from traditional in-person activities to the digital space brought on by the pandemic has been challenging, but this change gave us a new perspective on how we do our work. Simply by moving online, we’ve been able to reduce barriers to access and reach more people than ever before. Change doesn’t come easily, but despite the challenges we’ve faced along the way, we are poised to steer the future of brain health into the digital space by investing our energy and resources in the right places.

OBI is committed to supporting activities that either generate the evidence to improve care or lead to the development of products and services that improve health outcomes. We’re striving to improve the lives of people with brain disorders and moving to digital or virtual approaches makes it easier to reach the 1 in 3 Ontarians in the comfort of their homes. Over the last year, we’ve supported major efforts to address mental health challenges, better the delivery and experience of virtual care, and create new tools that can be used at home. Continue reading “Care in the Digital Age”

The Potential of Data Sharing: What Data Means for your Brain Health

“As the world has grappled with a global pandemic, we have faced much uncertainty and many challenges in our society and our economy. In dealing with these issues, however, we have also been presented with an opportunity – the chance to rethink outdated conventions and renew the way we do business as we rebuild our society,” Dr. Mona Nemer, Chief Science Advisor of Canada, spoke on how COVID-19 may serve as a catalyst for change in how we approach research.

It’s no surprise that in the aftermath of the pandemic, the calls for collaboration and open science have grown louder across the science and research community. Brain-CODE, OBI’s neuroinformatics platform is a strong example of how we can share data on a global scale, leading to improved care, while also protecting privacy and upholding consent. Continue reading “The Potential of Data Sharing: What Data Means for your Brain Health”