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Meet the recipients of the Donald T. Stuss Young Investigator Research Innovation Award

March 15, 2021

Dr. Jenny Rabin, neuropsychology lead of the Harquail Centre for Neuromodulation at Sunnybrook, and Dr. Maged Goubran, scientist with Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) are the recipients of the "Donald T. Stuss Young Investigator Research Innovation Award" granted by The Dr. Sandra Black Centre for Brain Resilience & Recovery at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

The award recipients share insight into their research and what it means to receive this award, which honours the memory of Dr. Donald Stuss, a friend, colleague and visiting scientist of SRI, who passed away in 2019.

Q & A with Dr. Jenny Rabin, neuropsychology lead, Harquail Centre for Neuromodulation

Dr. Jenny Rabin is originally from Toronto and is a graduate of the MA/PhD Clinical Psychology program at York University garnering the prestigious Governor General’s award for her thesis work. She completed a joint clinical and research postdoctoral fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. During her postdoctoral fellowship, Jenny analyzed data from the Harvard Aging Brain Study, an ongoing longitudinal study aimed at identifying very early markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Rabin is the neuropsychology lead of the Harquail Centre for Neuromodulation at Sunnybrook, scientist in the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Research Program at Sunnybrook Research Institute, and an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine (Neurology) at the University of Toronto.

Her current research program at Sunnybrook uses sophisticated brain imaging tools and comprehensive cognitive testing to investigate risk and protective factors for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. In addition, her research in the Harquail Centre examines the cognitive and behavioural changes associated with novel neuromodulation strategies in different brain conditions.

She is one of two recipients of the "Donald T. Stuss Young Investigator Research Innovation Award" granted by the Dr. Sandra Black Centre for Brain Resilience & Recovery.

What does it mean to you, on a personal level, to receive this award?

This award is particularly meaningful to me because it was Don Stuss who first inspired me to become a neuropsychologist. After completing my undergraduate degree in psychology, I worked for Don as a research assistant for two years at the Rotman Research Institute. His love of neuropsychology was contagious. As a research assistant I was involved in a large-scale study investigating novel rehabilitation strategies for older adults with white matter disease. The study was being carried out in collaboration with, who other than, Sandra Black!

I used to come to Sunnybrook to scan our study participants, since Rotman didn’t have a scanner at the time. Little did I know that I would end up back at Sunnybrook as a scientist more than 10 years later and Don would be sitting just a few offices away from me. When I first started at Sunnybrook, I would meet with Don regularly to discuss my research goals and ideas. I was quickly reminded of his brilliance, warmth and humour, and why I went into neuropsychology in the first place. Receiving the Donald Stuss Award represents coming full circle for me, as I embark on my own research career in neuropsychology with many of my own studies carried out in collaboration with Sandra Black.

What does it mean to you, on a professional level, to receive this award?

It can be difficult to secure funds for research, so I was very excited to learn that I was the recipient of the Donald Stuss Award. Receiving this award means that I can support additional staff and students to help carry out several planned studies. This will help raise the profile of my research program, enabling me to be more competitive for other funding opportunities. In honour of Don’s influence on my career path, I would like to use the funds from this award to train and mentor my own students. I only hope that I can inspire my trainees the way Don inspired me!

What key points would you like people to know about your research?

We recently received a grant to study risk and protective factors for cognitive impairment in a multi-ethnic Canadian cohort. This is an exciting new project that will fill an important gap in the literature, as little is known about the lifestyle factors that promote or protect against cognitive impairment in non-Caucasian ethnic groups. This project is being carried out in close collaboration with Maged Goubran (co-principal investigator) and Sandra Black, among others. In addition, a primary objective of my research in the Harquail Centre for Neuromodulation is to develop innovative ways to assess outcomes in neuromodulation trials, with a particular focus on what matters most to patients, such as quality of life and everyday functioning. We are also planning to use digital biomarkers to better capture treatment changes in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, essential tremor, OCD and major depressive disorders.

Learn more about Dr. Jenny Rabin » 

Q & A with Maged Goubran, scientist, Sunnybrook Research Institute

Dr. Maged Goubran is originally from Egypt and travelled to Canada to pursue his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Western University. He earned his PhD in biomedical engineering with a specialization in medical imaging at the Robarts Research Institute at Western University. He then went on to complete his postdoctoral studies as a research scholar at the Montreal Neurological Institute and then as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Radiology and the Neuroscience Program at Stanford University. His expertise is in the areas of artificial intelligence (AI), computational neuroscience and neuroimaging. As part of his postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford, Dr. Goubran developed a computational pipeline for investigating neural connectivity mapping in pre-clinical models, working with the pioneers of tissue clearing and optogenetics. His tools are now being used by many collaborating labs internationally.

As a scientist in physical sciences at the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Research Program at Sunnybrook Research Institute, Dr. Goubran’s research combines translational and basic science research to explore the underlying mechanisms and pathways behind disease progression of neurological and cerebrovascular disorders including Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.

What does it mean to you, on a personal level, to receive this award?

I am very honoured and humbled to be a recipient of this award because it celebrates Dr. Stuss, one of the pillars and pioneers of cognitive neuroscience in Canada and internationally. I hope that our work continues his vision, adds to his instrumental contributions to neuroscience and translates to improved patient care.

What does it mean to you, on a professional level, to receive this award?

Funding like this helps provide resources to recruit talent and raise the profile of my research, which will enable me to secure more funding opportunities in the future. This award will greatly help with the recruitment of a graduate student and the generation of key preliminary data for our project investigating structural and functional network dysfunction in a pre-clinical model of Alzheimer’s disease, in collaboration with Dr. Bojana Stefanovic and Dr. JoAnne McLaurin.

What key points would you like people to know about your research?

My research combines both technical and translational research. It focuses on the development of novel artificial intelligence and computational methods to probe, predict and understand neuronal and vascular circuit alterations, and model brain pathology in neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and traumatic brain injury. A key theme in my program is developing predictive and prognostic AI models. For example, we are working on creating prognostic models of neurogenerative diseases from rich imaging, genetic and clinical data. This work, in collaboration with Jenny and Sandra, will help to predict subject-specific rates of cognitive decline and identify at-risk individuals. These models can aid in the great challenge of providing individualized, earlier treatment for high-risk individuals.

Learn more about Dr. Maged Goubran »