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Research & development

New brain health centre announced in BC

VANCOUVER – The University of British Columbia announced a $15 million gift from Vancouver philanthropist Djavad Mowafaghian for a new facility that integrates brain research and
patient care. In honour of his generosity – the largest gift to date to the UBC Faculty of Medicine – the facility will be named the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health.

The gift is the latest in a long history of philanthropic efforts by Mowafaghian to advance children’s health and education around the world.

The Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health has also received $25 million from the Province of British Columbia, $15 million from Industry Canada’s Centres of Excellence in Commercialization and Research program, $17 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the BC Knowledge Development Fund, and $5 million from the Townsend Family.

“I was attracted to the UBC Faculty of Medicine for the research it conducts and its efforts to find cures for brain disorders affecting children,” said Mowafaghian, whose decision to support the project became more personally meaningful after he suffered a stroke last April.

“I am lucky that I have recovered,” he added. “But thousands more people per year in Canada suffer strokes, with many of them dying or never fully recovering. It is my hope that this facility will help lay the foundation for future discoveries in brain health and make a difference in the lives of the children of British Columbia and beyond.

“The brain has been referred to as the last frontier of medicine,” he said. “I hope that my gift will enable doctors and researchers to reach that frontier.”

Mowafaghian was joined by Hamid Eshghi, president of the Djavad Mowafaghian Foundation, and Abrahim Tahsili, a family friend and director at the Foundation, at the announcement on UBC’s Vancouver campus. Also speaking at the event on the gift’s significance were UBC President Stephen Toope, Vice Provost Health and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine Gavin Stuart, Brain Research Centre Director Max Cynader, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) Chief Operating Officer Mary Ackenhusen and Lara Boyd, a UBC-VCH neuroscientist with an expertise in stroke rehabilitation.

A partnership between UBC and VCH, the 12,500-square-metre Centre is scheduled to open at UBC Hospital in 2013 and will bring together researchers and clinicians from a range of disciplines related to brain health.

“Dr. Mowafaghian’s generous gift will unite research in neuroscience, mental health and addiction medicine while bringing research and patient care under one roof,” said Prof. Toope. “The new Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health will also accelerate the process from bench side to bedside.”

“The multi-disciplinary, collaborative approach to tackling brain diseases and disorders puts UBC and our health partners in a unique position to make significant advances that will benefit people around the world,” Toope said.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 14,000 Canadians die from stroke every year. It is the leading cause of long-term disability in adults in the world.

Neuroscience Canada estimates that one in three Canadians of all ages will be affected by a disease, disorder or injury of the brain or nervous system at some point in their lives, and as many as half of all Canadian families have been affected by a brain disorder.

Prof. Boyd, who is integrating physical therapy with the latest developments in brain imaging to identify why some stroke patients recover better than others, said the multi-disciplinary approach enabled by the new Centre will result in new knowledge and treatment options.

“By understanding why certain rehabilitation strategies work – and some don’t – for individuals suffering different types of brain injuries, we can move towards a therapy regimen that is truly tailored to each patient and their needs,” said Boyd, Canada Research Chair in Neurobiology of Motor Learning.

A native of Tehran who settled in Vancouver in 1987, Mowafaghian and his charitable foundation have helped build 26 schools in Iran, benefitting more than 17,000 students a year – including several schools for physically impaired children.

In British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, the Djavad Mowafaghian Foundation has supported more than 20 organizations, including B.C. Children’s Hospital, Simon Fraser University, Child Development Foundation of B.C., Lions Gate Hospital Foundation and Junior Achievement of B.C.

At UBC, the Foundation has also supported the Human Early Learning Partnership and the Djavad Mowafaghian Atrium, which houses Canada’s largest blue whale skeleton display at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

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Posted April 7, 2011