$5.1 million donation boosts open hardware approach to motor neuroscience

Andrew Pruszynski, PhD, is helping break new ground in motor neuroscience (Mac Lai/Schulich Medicine & Dentistry photo)

A $5.1 million donation made by the Azrieli Foundation ($3.48M to Western University and $1.62M to Emory University) is taking an open-science concept to the next level, by enabling researchers across Canada to access and utilize electrodes developed and tested by Andrew Pruszynski, PhD, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western, and Sam Sober, PhD, Emory. 

The researchers’ goal is to accelerate motor neuroscience research on a national scale, uncovering new findings in neurological conditions that affect the body’s movement, including Parkinson’s disease, ALS, and in neurodevelopmental disorders like autism – which impact the body’s motor control, such as reflexes and motor development. 

Pruszynski’s “open-hardware” concept is to create a consortium of neuroscientists whose research – whether it’s motor control or motor learning – would benefit from using these electrodes, and in turn gain feedback from the researchers to refine their hardware.

“I know the complexity and breadth of the healthcare issues faced by neurodivergent people, and this knowledge guides our commitment and our mission,” says Naomi Azrieli, Chair and CEO of the Azrieli Foundation. “This is why I am thrilled that the Foundation has forged this innovative partnership with Western and Emory to break new ground in motor neuroscience.”

Pruszynski’s own research is focused on understanding how the signals from the body, specifically from the skin and muscles, contribute to making accurate, precise movements of the hands and arms. His research helps clinicians to understand how the brain learns to perform new motor skills and can help improve therapy for patients trying to relearn their movements after trauma, disease, or injury. 


During a hand-function test, electrode cameras capture feedback from the neural circuits that control the body’s muscles (Mac Lai/Schulich Medicine & Dentistry photo)

For him, having access to this hardware – which was developed in Sober’s laboratory in Atlanta, Georgia – means being able to work with clinicians to help them multiply the type of feedback they get from a patient at one time. This information provides clinicians with more data to analyze, such as a patient’s response to treatment or the progression of disease. 

Support from the Foundation will also award multi-year operating grants for select labs studying motor neuroscience and technology development in Canada. 

“We are grateful to the Azrieli Foundation for partnering with Western in order to mobilize neuromotor research initiatives, and narrow the gap between discovery and clinical application,” says Dr. John Yoo, Dean of Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western. “We are excited to play a part in a network that has the chance to change the outcome and pave the way to breakthroughs never imagined before.” 

Pruszynski is excited about the possibilities. “The Azrieli Foundation’s support will help seed numerous research activities across the country, enabling scientists to make substantial gains in motor neuroscience.”

Originally published on WesternU.ca. View the original article here.