Real-life research from bench to bedside

Student Daria Kolmogorova uses a microscope while Professor Nafissa Ismail looks on, smiling.
Breaking down barriers to tackle dementia

Students are gaining invaluable hands-on experience as the Memory Collaborative unites two major institutes to improve research, education and care related to an urgent health issue.

PhD student Daria Kolmogorova can point to the moment her drive to understand the causes and progression of memory loss and dementia deepened. It was when she heard directly from a man living with cognitive impairment and his wife, who was caring for him, about how the illness was affecting them both.

“Although their story was heartwarming and hopeful, it also raised some of the problems dementia patients and their caregivers face — essentially learning to adapt to a different version of the loved one with dementia,” says Kolmogorova, a fourth-year clinical psychology PhD student. “It inspired me further to work with these conditions and to find ways to help similar individuals.”

The couple’s poignant remarks occurred during a workshop made possible by the Memory Collaborative, a new research partnership between uOttawa’s Brain and Mind Research Institute and the Bruyère Research Institute. It was Kolmogorova’s first contact with people directly affected by the problems she is researching — and an example of the silo-busting the innovative collaboration facilitates.

For Kolmogorova’s supervisor, Professor Nafissa Ismail, director of uOttawa’s NISE Lab, scientists immersed in basic research are too often isolated. Researchers are removed from the effects of the diseases they study, and from the patients and clinical perspectives required to bring knowledge from the bench to the bedside.

Thanks to the Memory Collaborative, new research avenues have opened for Ismail and Kolmogorova. Working at the cellular level and with mice models, they can now access facilities to take their work further. They have colleagues, equipment and access to patients, bridging research gaps. More than 100 researchers, clinician-scientists and trainees will now reap the same benefits as them.   

Ismail and Kolmogorova study the effects of stress and inflammation on the brain during puberty and its subsequent link to cognitive impairment later in life. They also examine the differences in how men and women react to the inflammation and stress.

The wider collaboration with researchers at Bruyère and the Royal Ottawa Hospital means the uOttawa researchers now work with colleagues with access to imaging equipment and patients. Together, the research team members analyze brain scans and questionnaires from patients, to investigate links between illnesses or stress during puberty and later cognitive decline. This partnership results in richer long-term data to validate the NISE Lab’s findings in humans.  

The Memory Collaborative, which spans dozens of research projects at both institutions, will jumpstart progress on finding new treatments and ways to help people living with dementia, Ismail says.

“This is an urgent matter. We need to put all our knowledge together, so we can understand memory and cognition and finally find a way to treat cognitive decline.”

For Heidi Sveistrup, interim CEO and chief scientific officer at the Bruyère Research Institute, memory loss and dementia are major issues we all face. More than 550,000 Canadians currently have dementia, and more than 25,000 are diagnosed with it annually. The Memory Collaborative will help vital research move forward more quickly.

“I’m so excited about having an official, formal collaboration with the University of Ottawa,” Sveistrup says. “They have great scientists and we have great scientists — so we are doubling the science.”

Dr. Frank Knoefel, a physician and clinical scientist at Bruyère, is enthusiastic about helping students like Kolmogorova put their research into a real-life context.

“We love having students who don’t get a lot of chances to deal with older adults take part in our research. It’s about real older adults and changing their lives.”

Your support for the Memory Collaborative will increase opportunities for students to be part of advancing research discoveries and treatments for people suffering from dementia.  

In 2015, the University of Ottawa launched a $400 million fundraising campaign. Defy the Conventional: The Campaign for uOttawa is raising funds to support priorities in every faculty. The campaign will help uOttawa recruit and retain top talent and enrich the student experience. Donations will also support innovative capital projects.

Dr. Frank Knoefel stands in a hallway of the Bruyère Research Institute.

Dr. Frank Knoefel at the Bruyère Research Institute: “We love having students who don’t get a lot of chances to deal with older adults take part in our research.” Main photo: PhD student Daria Kolmogorova and Professor Nafissa Ismail.


University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Research Institute Development Fund

Donors of $500 or more are entered into the Tabaret Society

Your contribution will support research that unlocks the healing power of the human brain and improves the quality of life for patients.

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