A-MAP to Success

Dr. Robert Brownstone seen here with some of the AMAP lab’s new state-of-the-art equipment, the two-photon microscope.

AMAP Lab Opens in Life Sciences Research Institute


Dr. Robert Brownstone has had a series of moments in his career where the results of his research have made him think, ‘that’s funny’. This has happened even recently in his work studying how the spinal cord controls muscle activity and walking with the Dalhousie University Faculty of Medicine.

He, like many researchers, considers those moments a reason for doing  experiments. What may be seen as frustrating for some, when an experiment doesn’t work out like once thought, are seen as opportunities for further exploration.

Brownstone and four other researchers, all part of Dalhousie University’s Atlantic Mobility Action Project (AMAP) – Dr. James Fawcett, Dr. Angelo Iulianella, Dr. Ying Zhang and Dr. Victor Rafuse – are aiming to restore mobility and important functional abilities to people whose nervous systems have been damaged by injury or disease.                                            

The researchers are now located in their new lab, along with the approximately 30 to 40 people the lab will employ, which officially opened June 14, at the Life Sciences Research Institute.

“Our goal is to understand how movement is produced, our understanding of how we normally are able to pick up a cup of coffee (for example), it’s going to help us to help people that have that disability,” said Brownstone. “It’s really aimed at what we would call a functional restoration – how do we help people improve their function?”

Brownstone said the lab will be a source for world-class research in Nova Scotia, and it couldn’t have been done without the support of partners like the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust (NSRIT) – with support  from the Province of Nova Scotia – the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and private donors.

“What all of this is going to enable us to do is to really come together as a group with tremendous strengths. There are all sorts of collaborations between us that really enable us to tackle the problem from many different viewpoints in order to get the answers.”

Those answers will come through work with state-of-the-art equipment, including microscopes that can visualize and manipulate the activity of certain nerve cells, culture facilities and a mass spectrometer – all of which will help the researchers further understand their field.

Brownstone said he and the other leading-edge researchers will also benefit from the new lab by collaborating more effectively on site. This will lead to new research that will not only help the researchers to better understand the field, but provide quality of life improvements for those living with spinal cord injuries and diseases of the nervous system.

He said the strength of such collaborations comes when researchers who are working on similar work, can provide insight, enabling new ideas to form.

“The whole is greater than some of the parts,” he said.

It’s not, however, been an overnight process to open the lab – which will cost close to $14 million when it’s completed later this year, after five years of work towards the goal of an opening.

Brownstone said the five researchers will be addressing a number of different injuries and diseases of the nervous system and he’s confident their successes will continue for many years to come with resulting health benefits branching out worldwide.

He also looks forward to further opportunities for ‘that’s funny’ moments that will occur in the new lab – and what he’ll discover when they happen.

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