McMaster University

McMaster University

Ontario brains put their heads together

The Hamilton Spectator
March 7, 2012
Carmela Fragomeni

Ontario Brain Institute researchers Dr. Jan Gorter, left, and rehabilitation specialist Dr. Ronit Mesterman, associate professor and child nerologist.

Gorter and Mesterman. Ontario Brain Institute researchers Dr. Jan Willem Gorter, left, and rehabilitation specialist Dr. Ronit Mesterman, Associate Professor and child Neurologist.

Cathie Coward/The Hamilton Spectator Source


There’s much excitement in the scientific world over three Ontario Brain Institute projects expected to make new discoveries in treating autism, epilepsy and cerebral palsy.

“We’re going after the brass ring,” explains Dr. Peter Szatmari about the significance of the research to be done. Szatmari is director of the Offord Centre for Child Studies in Hamilton, head of psychiatry at McMaster Children’s Hospital and a McMaster University psychiatry and behavioural neuroscience professor. He is also one of five lead researchers in the Institute’s project on finding better treatments for neurodevelopment disorders.

Szatmari said he won’t use the word ‘cure,’ but he does expect great things, and at the very least, vast improvements to be found in treating children suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorders and others disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity and Obsessive Compulsive.

“We’re now at the stage where we think we can make significant advancements in treatment,’ said Szatmari, who has studied autism disorders for 30 years.

“I’ve been in this game a long time, so I’m excited to work with not only McMaster researchers but new colleagues and scientists from across Ontario.”

It’s a novel approach of everyone working together for the common goal of reducing the suffering and severity of autism and how common it is becoming, he said. It also brings in scientists studying other disciplines like trauma or vision to provide new perspectives and possibilities, he said.

“We’re attracting all these fantastic talents and building bridges. That’s what the Brain Institute is allowing us to do.”

The Ontario Brain Institute was created by the provincial government in 2010 to bring together the top brain researchers and business experts who can turn their discoveries into products and services. The three projects announced Monday are its first and involve 80 researchers across Ontario.

Szatmari is the point person at McMaster for the disorders project, which includes a small clinical trial on new medications. He will also identify potential environmental risks for developing autism such as low birth weight or advanced parental age, he said.

Two other McMaster University researchers and professors, Dr. Gabriel Ronen and Dr. Michelle Shapiro are among 26 researchers in the project on new epilepsy treatments.

Dr. Ronen, pediatrics professor and pediatric neurologist at McMaster Children’s Hospital, leads one of several sub studies. His is designed to treat epilepsy without new drugs and will conduct a clinical trial of 60 inactive patients aged 8 to 14 to see if physical activity improves an epileptic child’s psychological well-being and quality of life.

“There are many unfounded assumptions of dangers of physical activity with children with epilepsy,” which restricts their sports activities, he said.

“Increased physical activity improves many aspects of the brain,” Ronen says, and not just for children. It slows cognitive decline in patients with mild dementia and can slow the deterioration caused by Parkinson’s disease, he said.

Also, McMaster doctors and professors Dr. Jan Willem Gorter, Dr. Ronit Mesterman, and Dr. Peter Rosenbaum, are among 27 Ontario researchers on the third Institute project to develop better personalized treatments and earlier interventions for Cerebral palsy.




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