Neurological and psychiatric disorders touch us all, whether directly or indirectly. These disorders are complex and are often caused by a combination of many variables, including fundamental biological processes, genetics, environmental factors, and personality. They do not discriminate by education, ethnicity, culture, gender, socioeconomic status or age. The following statistics give a good sense of the scale of the challenge:
- Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia affects roughly 500,000 Canadians, a number expected to grow with each passing year.
- Movement disorders, neuropathies and neurodegenerative disorders are major health problems in Canada and worldwide. It is estimated that 340 out of every 100,000 Albertans suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS) (one of the highest rates of MS in the world), 7 to 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) targets up to 3,000 Canadians.
- It is estimated that 36,000 Canadians are suffering from some form of spinal cord injury.
- Stroke is the third leading cause of death in Canada.
- Pain complicates many neurological disorders and is the most common reason for seeking health care in Canada.
- 1 in 100 Canadians suffer from epilepsy, a potentially debilitating disorder.
- Suicide is a leading cause of death in men and women between adolescence and middle age.
- Mental illness accounts for approximately $20 billion of workplace loss in Canada, and much of that loss is due to depression, which the WHO predicts will soon be the leading global burden of illness.
- Approximately one per cent of Canadians have schizophrenia.
It is critical to address the root causes and disabilities associated with disorders of the nervous system. The newly created Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute at the University of Alberta has been tasked with this mission. One of three newly developed multidisciplinary Translational Science Institutes (TSIs), it will foster research collaborations, focus research efforts within cutting edge facilities and enhance the ability to translate research from the laboratory with the goal of alleviating the burden of neurological disease in our community.
I commend the life science faculties on this much-needed initiative.
Lorne A Babiuk
University of Alberta