The University of Winnipeg



New cutting-edge neuroscience lab opens at UWinnipeg

Group photo of Drs. Amy Desroches, Stephanie Bugden, and Stephen Smith standing in front of plants.

From left to right: Drs. Amy Desroches, Stephanie Bugden, and Stephen Smith have co-founded the new Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience lab at UWinnipeg.

A new lab at The University of Winnipeg has received $130,344 in funding through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) to conduct cutting-edge neuroscience research.

The Centre itself is unique to Manitoba. We’re the only institution in the province that has this infrastructure and the capacity to study all three brain elements.

Drs. Stephanie Bugden, Amy Desroches, and Stephen Smith

Founded by Drs. Stephanie Bugden, Amy Desroches, and Stephen Smith, all from the Department of Psychology, the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience will examine the neural mechanisms underlying children’s ability to learn, to read, to write, and to perform math.

It will also allow the researchers to perform medically relevant research with several clinical populations, including individuals with spinal cord injuries and with traumatic brain injuries.

“The recent closure of the MRI facility in the National Research Council Canada building has made it difficult to conduct brain-imaging research in the city,” said Drs. Bugden, Desroches, and Smith. “Having the portable functional near-infrared spectroscopy and portable electroencephalography systems at UWinnipeg will allow our labs to continue performing interesting neuroscience research.” 

“It will also help us train the next generation of neuroscience students — something that is very important for an undergraduate university.”

The first of its kind in Manitoba

JELF enables a select number of an institution’s excellent researchers to undertake innovative research by providing them with the foundational research infrastructure required to conduct world-class research.

Thanks to this funding, the research team is now able to purchase a portable functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), a portable electroencephalography (EEG), and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) simulator. These tools will support multidisciplinary research that will measure brain activity in a number of different ways, providing the researchers with novel ways to examine how typically and atypically developing populations perform different cognitive functions.

The fNIRS will allow Drs. Bugden, Desroches, and Smith to measure blood flow to the brain; the MRI simulator gives participants, particularly young children, a chance to acclimate to that unique environment; and the EEG provides information about the timing of brain activity. 

“The Centre itself is unique to Manitoba,” the trio said. “We’re the only institution in the province that has this infrastructure and the capacity to study all three brain elements.”

Areas of investigation will include:

  • How children of different ages perform math and reading tasks;
  • Whether there are early biomarkers for mathematical, reading, and emotional regulation disorders; and
  • Whether damage to different parts of the nervous system affect cognition and emotion.

This research has important implications for early diagnosis and intervention for several clinical populations.

The portability of these tools will also allow the team to conduct research outside of the lab, outside of Winnipeg, outside of the province, and outside of the country. For example, in the spring, Dr. Bugden took these pieces of equipment to West Africa.

“I think it is really important that we study Manitoba’s diverse population,” Dr. Bugden noted. “It allows us to develop partnerships with community organizations, schools, and hospitals within the city or outside of it, and to study the brain in real-world contexts – not just in a university laboratory.”

Children’s numeracy and literacy 

The research team says there’s very little information about how the brain develops in children before they enter school.

Therefore, Dr. Bugden will be looking to understand how children develop numeracy skills and learn mathematics, Dr. Desroches will be looking into children’s language and reading, and Dr. Smith will focus his research on emotional processes. 

“I’m most excited about our projects that focus on kids just before they start school ” Dr. Bugden explained, “because we can track neurodevelopment over time to see how the brain changes as they learn to read and to perform math in school. We can also look at how emotional processes like emotion regulation affects children’s learning.”

The long-term goal for all three researchers is to make a lasting impact on the educational system.

“Whether our research findings impact policy change for the better or create knowledge that educators can use in the classroom to help all children reach their full potential,” the trio said. 

Every year, the federal government invests in research excellence in the areas of health sciences, engineering, natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities through its three granting agencies. Support from the Research Support Fund ensures that UWinnipeg’s federally funded research projects are conducted in world-class facilities with the best equipment and administrative support available.