TORONTO, March 17, 2017 - More than 50 researchers from
local universities, health organizations and industry hit the gym at CAMH -- and
simultaneously connected to global networks -- earlier this month.
They were taking part in
CAMH’s first-ever BrainHack Toronto event. The
Toronto site connected to a global, synchronized BrainHack conference spanning
36 cities and 16 countries.
analysis – these topics might seem intimidating to some. But BrainHack
delivered the latest news on tech and research innovations to researchers of
all skill levels – from those learning fundamentals to more experienced hackers
including post-doc students and scientists.
Dr. Erin Dickie, of CAMH’s Scientific
Computing Working Group, and Baycrest’s Dr.
Stephen Strother co-chaired this
event, which was generously funded by the Ontario Brain Institute. The focus: Advances and Challenges in Neuroscience Data
“BrainHack is modelled on the
tech sector hackathon but the hacking is cooperative rather than competitive,”
notes Erin. BrainHack also emphasizes “intense, time-limited collaboration using
open data and freely available software.”
The Toronto BrainHack event connected into a global conference on brain
science data and research.
Presenter Dr. Anne Wheeler shared her work at
Sick Kids Hospital focusing on traumatic brain injury. She was one of five top
investigators from the Toronto area giving “Ignite” talks on how to wrangle and
distill meaning from complex imaging data sets. Another Ignite speaker, Dr. Jonathan Downar of the University
Health Network, undertook the first Toronto BrainHack at his lab in 2014. The
talks were broadcast via YouTube and streamed live in Cambridge, UK,
Montevideo, Uruguay, and Leipzig, Germany.
Taking part in BrainHack
Toronto were institutions including Baycrest, the University of Toronto,
Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab, the Hospital for Sick Children, University Health
Network, Sunnybrook Research Institute and CAMH, along with McMaster and
On the agenda were topics
including neural subtypes of depression and their implications for treatment, a
look at open data sets, and the integration of cross-species imaging data. The
Ignite speaker line-up included CAMH’s Dr.
Leon French, and Dr. Jason Lerch
of Sick Kids.
In addition to hearing from
expert speakers both locally and via live-stream, participants took part in
hacking sessions to work on interesting problems and case studies.
Participants from CAMH
and Sick Kids Hospital worked together during the open hacking sessions (above). Below,
a team from Sick Kids Hospital hits the gym for some open hacking.
This conference also featured the “Unconference,” says Erin.
“We encouraged our participants to deliver what we called ‘Unconference Talks.’
These include demos of open-source tools or novel analysis methods they’ve written
or become familiar with during their neuroimaging work.” The topics ranged from
how to find, run and modify software to how to interpret results.
“BrainHack was a wonderful opportunity to exchange ideas and
expertise with other neuroscience researchers,” says Dr. Yuliya Nikolova, Banting
postdoctoral fellow at CAMH’s Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute.
“It allowed me to go outside my comfort zone and consider novel methods and
perspectives to help move my research forward and create new collaborative
projects.” Dr. John Griffiths, a
post-doctoral fellow at Baycrest, agrees: “The relationships I made at
BrainHack will be meaningful to my work – we applied upgrades to my project’s
code that I would not have made, working alone.”
“This was a great opportunity
to bring together researchers from multiple disciplines globally, to work
together on innovative projects related to neuroscience,” says David Rotenberg, Manager of Scientific
Computing in CAMH’s Information Management Group (IMG).