“Dr. Paus basically created the field of population neuroscience, where state-of-the-art neuro-imaging technology is used to understand the complex interaction between environment and genes that sculpt the healthy brain,” explains Dr. Randy McIntosh, vice-president of Research at Baycrest and director of the Rotman Research Institute. “His work engages the community at large, giving them the opportunity to contribute directly to the research goals.”
Dr. Paus, who is conducting large population-based studies in Canada and the United Kingdom, has been studying brain maturation and cognitive development from childhood to adolescence. Now working with Institute scientists, he is laying the foundation for a major research project based in Toronto that will span three generations – grandparents, parents and children.
“We want to understand how environmental and genetic factors shape the human brain and body,” says Dr. Paus, who holds the joint Baycrest and University of Toronto Anne and Max Tanenbaum Chair in Population Neuroscience. He is also co-director – with The Hospital for Sick Children’s Dr. Zdenka Pausova – of the Toronto Trans-Generational Brain and Body Centre located at Baycrest.
Dr. Paus and his team use state-of-the-art imaging tools like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to study brain structure and function. They then combine data obtained via these methods with detailed assessments of cognition and mental health, as well as cardiovascular and metabolic health, along with assessments of lifelong experiences and variations in genes.
“The goal is to see how the environment combines with genetic traits to influence whether we develop disorders like depression, addiction, dementia, obesity and diabetes,” Dr. Paus explains. “We hope our findings will be useful in helping convince people who might be headed down the path to illness later in life to embrace personalized interventions aimed at helping them stay healthier longer.”
Dr. Paus’s other research interests and activities include hormonal influences on the maturation of white matter in the brain during male puberty, the effects of maternal smoking during pregnancy on the children’s drug experimentation during adolescence, and how we process “social cues” in faces and bodies in the context of conflict resolution and reconciliation.
© 2011 Baycrest. All Rights Reserved.