Improving Brain Resilience Across Canada: Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Institute for Neuroscience and Neurotechnology (INN)

faranak farzan in lab at surrey memorial engineering led brain research

The brain’s ability to adapt to new and sometimes adverse events – brain resilience – is a critical determinant of lifelong health. Poor brain resilience affects an individual’s quality of life, impacts their social circles and  has negative financial consequences. An estimated one in three Canadians will face a neurological challenge (mental illness, brain disorder, or brain injury) during their lifetime. It’s estimated brain diseases cost our health system and economy over $60 billion a year, more than cancer and cardiovascular disease combined (Brain Canada Foundation Annual Report, 2018).

Establishment of SFU’s INN

To address these challenges plaguing our communities and your constituents, SFU’s INN opened in January 2020. We’re led by Dr. Randy McIntosh, a distinguished neuroscientist with more than 25 years of experience. Our mandate is to foster practical and interdisciplinary collaboration between scientists – in fields such as neuroscience, psychology, biology and engineering – and policymakers, practitioners and families to produce better patient information, more personalized healthcare solutions and improved healthcare outcomes. We visualize a future where professionals can identify an individual’s own manageable brain health risk factors and develop customized interventions in advance.

Faranak Farzan (Applied Science professor and INN steering committee member) conducting transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) on a subject at Surrey Memorial Hospital

TheVirtualBrain, international collaboration and early initiatives

We are starting by modelling general trajectories of brain resilience from youth to old age, reflecting various biological, social and cultural factors. Then, we’ll model ideal trajectories of brain resilience, considering how individuals adapt to change. Finally, we’ll create knowledge mobilization hubs, bringing together scientists, practitioners and communities to develop effective solutions to challenges along these trajectories. Underpinning this work is TheVirtualBrain (TVB) – a free, downloadable brain simulation resource for scientists and clinicians created through a collaboration between Canada, France and Germany.

TVB merges brain imaging data into a simulation, allowing professionals to evaluate different interventions before using them to treat patients. TVB is currently being used in a national clinical trial with epilepsy patients in France. And, a recent New Frontiers Research Fund Exploration grant will be used to enhance modelling of the brain’s lifespan changes against a person’s unique sociocultural environment, expanding TVB’s utility for assessing brain resilience in diverse and underrepresented populations.

Our first community-based program will launch in 2023 in B.C. We intend to establish a healthy aging cohort and examine key biological and social factors in maintaining their brain health. These participants will receive detailed brain imaging, cognitive assessments and wearable technology for tracking their health status. In addition, each participant’s TVB model will be updated regularly to help identify the essential factors that predict good brain health, laying a foundation for early identification of cognitive risk and helping to establish mitigation strategies.

Become an affiliate member

As we expand, we’re looking for affiliate members. Professionals, clinicians and researchers from universities or organizations outside SFU – with past or planned contributions to neuroscience or neurotechnology –  can benefit from involvement in team grants, technical support for neuroinformatics and more. Learn more about affiliate membership on our website.

About SFU’s Institute for Neuroscience and Neurotechnology (INN)

SFU’s INN is a collective of distinguished researchers and educators who work together across disciplines, institutions and industries to drive progress and innovation in neuroscience and neurotechnology. Our goal is to increase brain resilience in diverse and underrepresented populations throughout the communities we serve.

For more information, visit our website or contact Kelly Shen, Senior Program Manager and Informatics Team Lead, at