National institute announces Dr. Sam Weiss as Scientific Director

Nov 21, 2017

Dr. Sam Weiss was a young trainee looking for support to pursue brain cells research in 1980. At the time he was one of the first graduate students ever funded by Alberta Innovates. Now, he is one of the most prominent neuroscientists in North America.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) recently appointed Dr. Weiss as Scientific Director of the newly created Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction (INMHA) at the University of Calgary.

In his role, Dr. Weiss will work with Canadian neurosciences, mental health and addiction communities and stakeholders to identify research priorities, develop funding opportunities, build partnerships and translate research evidence into policy and practice.

One of the projects that Dr. Weiss and his team are currently working on is the development of a Canadian Brain Research Strategy. This is an integrated national research effort that builds on Canada’s strengths and current investments in cutting-edge collaborative neuroscience.

“It will drive transformative outcomes in neurological and mental health for Canadians. The strategy’s vision is to have innovative Canadian brain science driving health, policy and economic advancements for Canadians,” said Dr. Weiss.

He cited some areas of focus include managing the opioid and cannabis research agendas for the Government of Canada, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and youth mental health research.

Dr. Weiss has led Alberta’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) at the University of Calgary since its inception 13 years ago. In this position he led a team of more than 750 members, trainees and staff. He will continue as a member of the Institute, working closely with HBI and the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute.

“The Hotchkiss Brain Institute could be considered among the top four neuroscience institutes nationally. Internationally, the institute is known as a leader in stroke and Multiple Sclerosis research,” Dr. Weiss explains.

Weiss is well known for his discovery of neural stem cells in the brains of adult mammals in 1992, which suggests that the adult brain can generate new cells. This research has opened the door to potential new treatments for brain diseases and a better understanding of brain cancer.

“This discovery changed our ability to develop new therapies for brain degeneration and brain cancer world-wide,” he said.

His findings generated two ground-breaking perspectives. First, research demonstrates that neural development continues throughout the lifetime of adult mammals. Second, insights into ongoing adult cell production will allow researchers to use stem cells to repair neural tissue and enable functional recovery in patients suffering from brain and spinal cord injury and disease.

The implications of these discoveries are staggering. His discovery has opened the door to potential new treatments for brain diseases and a better understanding of brain cancer. Watch Dr. Weiss explain the potential of repairing tissue damaged through spinal cord injuries and devastating diseases such as stroke and multiple sclerosis.

Weiss sits on or chairs numerous national and international scientific peer review committees, has authored many publications, holds key patents in the neural stem cell field and has founded three biotechnology companies. He is a member of the board of directors of Brain Canada and a former member of the board of directors of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research.

“If I had not received funding from Alberta Innovates to support my research throughout my career, it would have dramatically curtailed my ability to advance the field and train brilliant young minds,” he said.