BMO Young Investigator Discovery: Exercise Repairs FAS Brain Damage

March 2, 2005

BMO Young Investigator Discovery: Exercise Repairs FAS Brain Damage

Vancouver, BC - Exercise can actually repair parts of the brain damaged by prenatal exposure to alcohol, according to research done at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. The discovery by Dr. Brian Christie, a BMO Bank of Montreal Young Investigator and neuroscientist at the Brain Research Centre at UBC Hospital and the Department of Psychology at UBC may improve the odds for thousands of British Columbians affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Using an animal model of prenatal ethanol exposure, Christie and his research team have found exercise improves performance in cognitive tasks and led to functional changes in brain cells - to the point that FASD mice were indistinguishable from normal mice. In a second study, they show that new brain cells are formed in the hippocampus after exercise, and that existing neurons have longer dendrites, the branchlike tendrils that allow communication between cells, and can communicate with one another more efficiently.

"We originally showed, in 1999, that exercise could improve neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity in normal animals," Christie notes. "This new research is the first extensive quantification of how the brain changes following exercise, and more importantly, we also show that some of the negative cognitive effects of prenatal alcohol exposure can be largely ameliorated." Christie adds, "One of the exciting things about this work is that it was performed in adult animals, which shows exercise can benefit our brains even later in life. It is also amazing to see how this research has attracted top research candidates from around the world to come to Vancouver and train in my laboratory."

In BC, an estimated three out of every 1,000 infants are affected by FASD. The social and economic cost of caring for these children is high. The Ministry of Children and Family Development expects that each child with FASD may need remedial medical, educational and social support equaling $1 million - $2 million. Dr. Christie's work may already be translating into the health population. Linda Reid, BC's Minister of State for Early Childhood Development, is enthusiastic about the findings. "Dr. Christie has provided us with ongoing updates of his work, and it is already changing the way FASD children are cared for," she says. "In the past, the practice was low lighting, low volume, low stimulation - but following this research, some foster parents have begun incorporating more physical activity and feel they are more satisfied with their child's development."

Results of the studies done in Dr. Christie's lab will be published this month in two peer-reviewed scientific journals: The European Journal of Neuroscience and the Journal of Comparative Neurology.

BMO Bank of Montreal is proud to partner with the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation and the Brain Research Centre to support the work of nationally and internationally renowned scientists like Dr. Christie.

For 25 years, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation and its donors have bridged the gap between basic and advanced health care. By raising funds, we provide BC's hospital with critical funding for life-saving equipment, world-class research, and improvements to patient care. Over 14,000 donors support the hospitals through VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, contributing $24 million last year.

The Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute is the research body of Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. In academic partnership with the University of British Columbia and philanthropic partnership with the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, the institute advances health research and innovation across BC, Canada, and beyond.

Contact: Lisa Carver,
Communications, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute
Phone: 604-875-3111 x 61777 / Cell 604-319-7533

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