My most significant contributions come from fundamental advances in functional brain imaging, translational applications to improve brain function evaluation, and capacity building around imaging and innovation. The technology focus is on integrating multimodal imaging through embedded, multiuser, collaborative laboratories. To date, the main imaging approaches are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional MRI (fMRI), MR spectroscopy, electroencephalography (EEG), event-related potentials (ERPs), magnetoencephalography (MEG), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Significant contributions include:
1) Systems neuroscience – white matter activation and distributed networks.
2) Translational neuroscience – neurotechnologies and device development.
3) Biomedical imaging – capacity building and cluster development.
- Systems neuroscience – white matter activation and distributed networks Since its emergence, fMRI has improved the visualization of neural activity that supports human sensory and cognitive processing. However, these investigations have been almost exclusively restricted to gray matter. Yet, white matter represents nearly 50% of the brain’s tissue and provides critical connections for distributed neural networks. Tackling this challenge represents the major contributions my research has made (10 of 22 publications over last 5 years, modal journal impact factor, NeuroImage: 7.063) and is the focus of my NSERC application. Despite a strong bias against it, my research has shown that functional activation can be detected in white matter. We used multimodal imaging to understand the distributed systems that support cognition. The initial work was published in Human Brain Mapping and Cognitive Brain Research. As this evolved, there was an increasing focus on unlocking white matter activation as a routine fMRI capability; a key breakthrough of previous NSERC-funded work. We developed an interhemispheric transfer model to demonstrate robust activation in the corpus callosum. This work was published in Magnetic Resonance in Medicine and BMC Neuroscience, with the latter awarded Feature Article and Top 10 High Article status. As a result, I was asked to be an Associate Editor for BMC Neuroscience. We then published three NeuroImage papers showing that white matter activation can be replicated using different tasks, varied as a function of task-type, co-localized with structural tracts using diffusion tensor imaging (Gawryluk et al., 2009; Mazerolle et al., 2010; Gawryluk et al., 2011a). Subsequent studies have used motor tasks to elicit activation in internal capsule (Gawryluk et al., 2011b), explored relative T2/T2* contributions to white and gray matter activation (McWhinney et al., 2012), provided the initial comparison of white versus gray matter hemodynamic responses (Fraser et al., 2012) and examined the relative differences field strength sensitivity profiles (Mazerolle et al., 2013).
Since 2010 the published work has received over 120 citations; an indication of the increasing reports of white matter activation in fMRI. The most recent study, published in PLOS One (Mazerolle et al., 2013), was accessed over 500 times in the first 6 months and continues to gain. Taken together, our research shows that white matter activation can be demonstrated in specific structures, but the measured response is reduced relative to gray matter and requires greater characterization to be fully accessible. The discovery is opening advances in functional connectivity, new measures of white matter integrity and studies of its physiological basis. My goal is for the work to contribute to a new active investigation into white matter function, along with new applications in the evaluation of white matter dysfunction (separate but fully complementary to the NSERC funded basic science work).
- Translational neuroscience – neurotechnologies and device development Translational work has focused on moving functional imaging results in the laboratory towards real world applications that impact individuals. The development includes devices to improve neurological evaluation of brain function. In neurology applications, the main contribution has been the Halifax Consciousness Scanner (HCS) and related portable monitoring technologies for brain function. The HCS is a point-of-care EEG-based device used for rapid evaluation of functional brain status (D’Arcy et al., 2011). HCS combines ERP indicators for neural function with a five-minute automatic procedure and report output. My contribution to the HCS includes the foundational ERP work (NSERC funded as a graduate student), the creation of the technology, and founder of a spin-off company. HCS technology has been licensed to Mindful Scientific and has received significant attention as one of the highest profile neurotechnology spin-off companies in Canada. The company was identified by the LifeScience Alley Conference in Minneapolis (Dec 7, 2011) as “one of the three most promising medical devices under development in North America,” won the Business Pitch Competition at Harvard, and won the Young Entrepreneurs Initiative for French American Innovative Startups, among other awards. Mindful Scientific and the HCS have been featured in national and international news stories on brain injury. Upon moving to BC, I have founded two related companies: 1) RQ Developments – to produce brain functional monitoring technology prototypes/ applications for licensing to receptor technology companies; and 2) Health Tech Connex – a technology commercialization service that helps innovators, businesses and clinicians improve existing products and bring new technologies to market. In neurosurgical applications, my main contribution has been surgical simulation and functional mapping. Through NRC, we developed NeuroTouch, the first virtual reality, patient-specific simulator for surgical planning. The Federal Minister of Industry called NeuroTouch Canada’s best example of current innovation. NRC awarded NeuroTouch breakthrough of the year (2011). The first real world patient rehearsal was conducted in Halifax (2009), and received worldwide media attention. NeuroTouch is being sold globally. Two related spin-offs impacts have emerged. The first has involved fMRI/MEG functional mapping for brain tumours and epilepsy and focused on multimodal integration for motor and language function. The impact of this work is best demonstrated by the recent cover of Human Brain Mapping (D’Arcy et al., 2013). HBM is ISI Journal Citation Ranked 1 in both Neuroimaging and Radiology Nuclear Medicine & Medical Imaging categories. The article highlighted the development of novel maps for language laterality. The second impact relates to bringing the MEG to Halifax. In addition, we attracted the multinational company Elekta to establish Elekta Atlantic, including significant foreign direct investment for HQP jobs. Similar efforts are underway in BC (below).
- Biomedical imaging – capacity building and cluster development An important aspect of my contribution extends beyond the research lab. Specifically, I have worked to build capacity in biomedical imaging for Atlantic and Western Canada. This work involves a leadership role in technical imaging capabilities, cluster development and innovation/commercialization. In Atlantic Canada, I founded and developed NRC’s Institute for Biodiagnostics from 2002-2012. In addition to being Associate Professor at Dalhousie, I was Head Institute and Senior Research Officer at NRC. In 2012, NRC Ottawa shifted priorities to business-led R&D and the Institute was taken over by the Province of NS along with regional university and hospital partners. The Institute is now called BIOTIC and was BioNova’s Good News Story of the Year (2013). During my time in Halifax, the Institute grew from 3 people to over 40 and leveraged more than $50M in biomedical imaging investment, including three high field MRIs (3T/4T/7T), PET/CT, a 306-channel MEG, 64/128 channel EEG (MR compatible), rapid TMS, and a high-performance computing platform. In 2010, our team won, first time in NRC history, two Outstanding Achievement awards in the same year: 1) Public Awareness around the Surgical Simulator; and 2) Community engagement and capacity building in Atlantic Canada. In 2012, I became BC Leadership Chair (CRC Tier 1 peer reviewed) and a Professor in the Faculty of Applied Sciences at SFU. It is a research-intensive position, with a joint-appointment within Fraser Health. My new position leads a strategic partnership with Fraser Health’s Surrey Memorial Hospital (SMH). As Head of SMH’s Health Sciences and Innovation, we have developed a focused, translational strategy with the leading pillar being medical technology development. Accordingly, three embedded, multiuser labs are under development. The first, now operational, is the Surrey Neurotechnology Lab (4000 sq ft. ~$1M), which hosts over 12 SFU faculty members and develops deployable devices for brain and spinal cord applications. The next two include a 275-channel MEG lab and a 3T MRI lab (2014). High profile partnerships from these labs include the Mayo Clinic for concussion evaluation. The Surrey efforts integrate closely with the existing capabilities in BC (e.g., UBC).
City of Surrey, led by Mayor Dianne Watts, is among the fastest growing municipalities in Metro Vancouver. At the centre, within one square mile, resides 4 university campuses (SFU, UBC, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and BC Institute of Technology) and SMH (the busiest hospital in BC). SFU has partnered with City of Surrey over the last year to develop Surrey’s Innovation Boulevard. Co-lead by Mayor Watts and I, Innovation Boulevard has three core technology themes: 1) medical; 2) independent living; and 3) digital health. Incoming companies include spin-offs, established SMEs, large regional companies, and multinational companies in the health technology sector. Innovation Boulevard represents the next hopeful contribution to capacity building – all seeded by basic foundation science in functional brain imaging.
Publication order and students: Given a colleague training philosophy, publications with students are inclusive of all students involved across multiple papers. Students leading the project/paper are the first author and I am routinely the terminal senior author. My role in joint publications is often concept generation and experimental design. I continue to try to be involved in data collection (and maintain active MR operator status). I review on-going data analysis for quality control and guide results interpretation and manuscript preparation.
Venues for results dissemination: All multidisciplinary trainees in my lab come together to work on joint publications and presentations. Students in my lab give regular practice oral presentations before presenting at international meetings, with all students giving frequent oral and poster presentations at conferences (mainly Human Brain Mapping and the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine). NSERC-funded graduates from the lab (such as Dr. Erin Mazerolle and Dr. Jodie Gawrlyuk) have established the beginnings of their own international reputations and networks well before moving on to post-doctoral or faculty positions.
Impact of patents and technology transfer: I have patents approved and filed around brain function evaluation using ERPs. I have founded and spun-off 3 active companies (Mindful Scientific Inc., Rq Developments, and Health Tech Connex Inc.) and spun-in multinational companies (Elekta Atlantic). In addition, I work with several Canadian small-medium enterprises toward brain technology advances. Now at SFU, I continue to advise and support a number of regional, provincial, and national innovation activities to further advance Canada’s priority of converting R&D strengths to innovation advances.
Canadian representation in neuroscience innovation: Through my previous leadership role in the Government of Canada, I represented Canada through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Industry Canada, and NRC on brain- related innovation. This has included the Canada-Israel Summits on Innovation as well as multiple international delegations to showcase Canadian neurotechnology advances (e.g., NeuroTouch and the Halifax Consciousness Scanner).