New research initiative fosters collaboration in neuroscience

A major new neuroscience research initiative, the Canadian Action & Perception Network (CAPnet), has been jointly established by York University, The University of Western Ontario and Queen’s University. 

CAPnet is a collaborative venture spearheaded by neuroscientists from three established research groups: the York Centre for Vision Research (CVR), the Western-based Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Group on Action & Perception (GAP) and the CIHR Group in Sensory-Motor Integration at Queen’s University. These groups represent the top Canadian scientists in vision science, neuroscience and sensory-motor vision research. Collectively, over the past five years, they have trained 664 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, and published 805 refereed journal articles.

On Dec. 2 and 3, CAPnet will hold its first full two-day science and business meeting in Toronto. Attending the meeting will be approximately 30 neuroscience faculty members, several international advisers, guests from government agencies and private industry, and the vice-presidents of research (and innovation) from York University, Queen’s University and the University of Western Ontario. By joining forces, researchers at these three institutions aim to understand how the brain works, especially in human movement control and perception, and how disease and injury can disrupt these functions.

Researchers within the newly formed group have already discovered how the brain analyzes vision in different neural streams for perception and action, how it maps our surroundings as we move through 3-D space and how it starts and stops eye movements. By combining their resources, with a focus on perception and action, CAPnet is positioned to be a global leader in neuroscience.

CAPnet’s research goal is to understand how the brain uses sensory information to construct an internal perceptual representation of the world and guide purposeful movements, both in health and sickness. Most of the central nervous system – including the cerebral cortex, subcortical brain structures and the spinal cord – is involved in these processes, so this amounts to understanding how the brain works as a system to guide behaviour. It follows that nearly every disease, disorder, and injury of the central nervous system including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, stroke and cerebral palsy has some impact on these systems.

Such diseases affect approximately one billion people in the world and collectively represent the No. 1 health-care cost in developed countries. The potential social and economic impact of this research for Canadians and people around the world is enormous.

Individual CAPnet members have maintained active collaborations for many years, but this is the first time they have sought to formalize this relationship and mount a concerted effort at a national and international scale. Canada is well known in the international neuroscience research community for its unusually concentrated, even dominant strength in this particular area of systems neuroscience.

The CAPnet steering committee – Doug Crawford (York), Jody Culham (Western), Randy Flanagan (Queen’s), Mel Goodale (Western), Laurence Harris (York), Ravi Menon (Robarts Research Institute at Western), Douglas Munoz (Queen’s), Stephen Scott (Queen’s) and Hugh Wilson (York) – are recognized international leaders and hold numerous national distinctions, including four Tier 1 Canada Research Chairs, one Ontario Research Development Challenge Fund, one Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, one Steacie Prize, two Top 20 Young Explorer Awards from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and one Top 40 under 40. CAPnet researchers have access to major research infrastructures for modern brain imaging and recording, sophisticated behavioural assessment tools, and various patient populations.

CAPnet members have established a number of goals:

  • to tackle major research projects by bringing together different teams of expertise within its membership;
  • to share knowledge, technology and infrastructure;
  • to create interdisciplinary training opportunities for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows;
  • to develop new medical technologies;
  • to expand opportunities for translation of knowledge from "the bench to the bedside";
  • and to pursue joint funding opportunities beyond the traditional tri-council operating grant model.

For more information, visit the CAPnet Web site.