McGill University and its Brain@McGill collaboration with Oxford University recently won the McCarthy Tetrault Award of Excellence in Partnership from the Quebec Government Office in London. We recently caught up with Dr. Claudio Cuello, Chair of Pharmacology at McGill and a former Oxford professor, who currently heads up the Brain@McGill committee.
McGill: Would you give us an overview of the Brain@McGill initiative?
Claudio Cuello: The Brain@McGill initiative is a dynamic international network of scientists in McGill academic departments, teaching hospitals and research institutions that share an advanced interest in molecular, cellular, systems, behavioural and cognitive neuroscience. Its main objective is to stimulate McGill-wide collaboration and enhance the national and international visibility of McGill’s achievements in neuroscience. By creating an international hub of collaboration, Brain@McGill promotes advanced training, groundbreaking research, unique new programs and connectivity between key players in neuroscience. Joint research ventures foster exciting new synergies, and exchanges expose its researchers to different scientific cultures.
To date, McGill University has established Brain@McGill partnerships with three of the world’s premier centres for neuroscience research: Oxford University, Imperial College London and the Zurich Neuroscience Zentrum (ZNZ). This bold initiative continues to generate a great deal of enthusiasm and has attracted attention from other potential partners.
M: How does the partnership work?
CC: The partnership model for Brain@McGill is truly unique. Each institution has a pool of funds, which it awards to projects that present opportunities for joint collaboration. Principal Investigators present mini joint grant applications for pilot experiments to a committee of judges at each university. With the relatively modest support they receive, investigators are able to conduct pilot experiments and gather preliminary data that will position them to apply for more significant investments from larger granting agencies.
M: In the case of the collaboration between McGill and Oxford, what factors make both universities well suited for this initiative?
CC: Both McGill and Oxford are internationally recognized for their expertise in neuroscience. McGill is home to one of the world’s most renowned centres for neuroscience research – the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital. It also boasts excellent neuroscience collaboration with the Douglas Research Institute, Lady Davis Institute and the Montreal General Hospital and has a robust network of neuroscience teaching and research programs across faculties and departments, including Pharmacology, Physiology and Psychology, among others.
Oxford has a long and illustrious history of neuroscience research, conducted in various departments and multidisciplinary centres across the university. These include the MRC Functional Genomics and Anatomical Neuropharmacology Units and the Oxford Centres for Cognitive Neuroscience, Functional Resonance Imaging in the Brain, Human Brain Activity and Parkinson’s disease.
M: What impact has the collaboration between McGill and Oxford had on neuroscience research at both institutions?
CC: The neuroscience partnership between McGill and Oxford has established one of the most powerful research capabilities in the field of neuroscience and allowed each university to capitalize on its respective strengths, by creating new opportunities for joint scientific research, teaching, and the exchange of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. It’s truly a win-win situation for both institutions. By broadening the scope of research and opening up opportunities for the application of different approaches to similar problems, the collaboration has accelerated the pace of discoveries in areas of shared expertise, including brain imaging, stroke and dementia, by allowing partners to maximize research dollars and the impact of the research they conduct.
M: What is the significance of this recent award?
CC: McGill and Oxford were extremely honoured to be presented with the McCarthy Tetrault Award of Excellence for Partnership from the Quebec Government Office in London on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. The selection committee was made up of members of the diplomatic service and industry from both Quebec and Great Britain. This prestigious accolade recognizes the significant importance that scientific research plays at both universities and acknowledges that collaboration across borders and disciplines holds the promise of exciting scientific advances.
M: What can we look forward to next for the McGill-Oxford collaboration?
CC: The Brain@McGill partnership with Oxford is now in its third year and has already proven to be very successful. To date, 24 joint proposals have been funded, including one that was subsequently awarded a $9.6-million grant from the Wellcome Trust, one of the world’s largest providers of non-governmental funding for scientific research.
Both universities are eager to take this partnership to the next level. With additional funding, there’s no telling how much value this collaboration will add to the enhancement of neuroscience discoveries. This is certainly the case with the anticipated creation of a tripartite partnership between McGill, Oxford and the Zurich Neuroscience Zentrum (ZNZ), which comprises neuroscience units from Zurich University and the ETH, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
The creation of Brain @McGill was spearheaded by Principal Heather Munroe-Blum and endorsed by the Vice-Principal of Research and International Relations, Rose Goldstein and by the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, David Eidelman. The initial nucleus of academics included Remi Qirion, Albert Aguayo, the late David Colman and Claudio Cuello. The current Brain@McGill commit has university-wide respresentation.
- By Linda Sutherland