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In the Community

Dr. Benedict Albensi:

Benedict Albensi, Director

The MitoCanada Foundation charitable organization was formed in 2010 by a group of passionate Canadian parents whose previously happy, healthy children were given a diagnosis of mitochondrial disease. Dr. Albensi has been a Board of Director member for 5 years and chairs MitoCanada’s Medical Science and Technology Committee. The previous board of director appointments include the Alzheimer’s Society of Manitoba and the Movement Ctr. of Manitoba.

Discovery Days
Discovery Days in Health Sciences are one-day events that give secondary school students (primarily Grade 11) who are interested in science the opportunity to explore a variety of career options in medicine and the health sciences. Dr. Albensi has been participating in Discovery Days workshops at St Boniface and career panels for over 10 years.

Science Fair Judging
Dr. Albensi has been participating in several science fairs locally and nationally for 15 years. These include Youth Science Canada ( ), Manitoba Schools Science Fairs, MSSS (, Sanofi, and Bison Regional Science Fair ( )

Teddy Bear Picnic – Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba (CHRIM)
Dr. Albensi has been a member of CHRIM for over 12 years and has been volunteering at the Teddy Bear Picnic for over 10 years. In particular, he hands out awareness materials for MitoCanada and meets with families to discuss mitochondrial disorders.

Dr. Gordon Glazner:

Charitable Fundraising

The St. Boniface Hospital Foundation

Since arriving in Winnipeg, I have worked with the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation on many fundraising activities, from short meetings with individual donors to major lectures and media exposure.

These activities have included:

  • Donor Breakfast talk
  • Global Television commercial
  • CJOB interview
  • One hour call-in show on CJOB “The Health Report with Stu Murray” (2007 & 2008)
  • Major letter campaign
  • Public lecture
  • Numerous small meetings and tours through the laboratory

Alzheimer Society of Manitoba:

Over the last 5 years, I have worked with the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba in various activities, including lectures on research and drug development (discussed in the “Public Education” section) and numerous fundraising activities, detailed below.

Last year, I was selected to sit on the Board of Directors of ASM.

My fundraising activities have included:

  • Keynote speaker at Annual Alzheimer’s Gala (this was featured in an insert in the Winnipeg Free Press)
  • Writing a mail-out letter to donors
  • Plenary Lecturer at Annual Alzheimer’s and Related Dementia meeting (featured in an article in the Winnipeg Free Press).

Community work

The community work I have engaged in since coming to UM includes giving the public and student tours of the laboratory, going out to local schools and support groups to talk about science as a career and what science means, and even engaging in the greening of a grade school.

  • Local school lectures
  • Student tours of laboratory
  • Career Days panel member
  • Public tours of laboratory
  • Poster judge for high school science fair
  • Invited public lectures (MMSF, USC, UM career days, etc)

Dr. Paul Fernyhough:

Manitoba Schools Science Symposium: Dr. Fernyhough incorporated a new Neuroscience component as a part of this annual province-wide science symposium. In 2007 approximately 40 neuroscience-related posters were presented by students enrolled in grades 5-8. Three principal investigators from the University of Manitoba and St Boniface Research Centre, including Dr. Fernyhough, judged each poster and awarded prizes to the top three individuals. These prizes were funded by the Winnipeg Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience.

Annual Brain Awareness Week Events: For the past two years, in my capacity as President of the Winnipeg Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience (WCSN), I have been responsible for organizing the activities of the Annual Brain Awareness Week (BAW) event in an effort to increase awareness for both the public and the neuroscience professionals on the research activities and other resources available locally. BAW activities included neuroscience poster displays, non-profit booth exhibits, public and research lectures, etc.

Brain Awareness Week Keynote Speaker – Dr. William Catterall, May 16, 2007:
RESEARCH SEMINAR: “Calcium channels and synaptic plasticity” Time & Venue: 12:00-
PUBLIC LECTURE: “Electrical signalling in the brain: Ion channels, epilepsy and more”

Brain Awareness Week Keynote Speaker – Dr. Carl Cotman, April 6-7, 2006:
Public & Scientific Lectures: The Winnipeg Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience held it’s 2006 Brain Awareness Week events on April 6-7th, 2006.
Dr. Carl Cotman, a world-renown researcher who specializes in Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s and other age-related disorders, was invited to Winnipeg to present two talks – a public seminar held on Thursday, April 6th, 2006 at the Sam Cohen Auditorium (attended by approximately 200 people) and a research seminar held on Friday, April 7th, 2006 in Theatre “C” at the Basic Medical Sciences Bldg (attended by approximately 100 people).

Neuroscience Lessons: involving students in grade levels: 5 thru 8 (coordinated by Dr. Paul Fernyhough and Stephen Jones).

These lessons and activities have been developed by Dr. Paul Fernyhough and Stephen Jones as a part of an outreach partnership between St-Boniface Hospital Research, The Winnipeg Chapter of Society for Neuroscience and the Louis Riel School Division of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Our goal is to bring the cardiovascular, neuroscience and other work that we do at the Research Centre into schools through curriculum-based activities. These activities are designed to work within the Manitoba Schools Grade 8 Cells and Systems unit, but can be modified to suit Grade 5 Maintaining a Healthy Body unit with a reduced emphasis on cell function. Provincial curriculum outcomes are available here:

Listing of Winnipeg Schools Visited Total – 55 Sessions

H.S. Paul School
Grade 5 (3); Grade 8 (6); EcoKids
Victor Mager
Grades 5-S1 (2 classes of each level)

Nordale School
Grades K-8 (2 classes of each level)

Frontenac School
Grades 5-8 (2 classes of each level)

Niakwa Place School
Grade 5 (2); Grade 7/8 (2)

Samuel Burland School
Grade 5 (2); Grade 8 (2); Grade 9 (2)

We visited all schools targeted as part of our planning sessions in Summer/Fall 2005 and Winter 2006. By our estimates, we worked with over 1500 students involving 55 It’s All About Me sessions in 13 classes in the period from November 2005-June 2006.

Lesson Goals: Students will recognize the connection between neurons, the organs of the nervous system and the function of the nervous system in normal and disease conditions. Students will investigate the cellular structure and function of neurons Students will connect the ideas of memory and motor control to neuron structure and function

Lesson Sequence: Begin, as all researchers do, by asking questions. Students will have many ideas, questions and misconceptions about brain function; address these to get a sense of prior knowledge and to activate their interest.

What do your students find interesting/confusing about the brain?

How many of your students have had some experience with brain disorders (stroke, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism…). How do these things affect people?

What about pain, does that have something to do with the brain? Your senses?

What do you know about brain/spinal cord/nerves?

What is your nervous system doing right now? Do you control everything your brain is doing?

Students should be familiar with the connection between cells, tissues, organs, organ systems and organisms. Have them decide or offer ideas to how the nervous system fits into the hierarchy. If students already have some understanding of cell specialization (muscle cells that contract, epithelial cells that secrete etc.), get them thinking of what a nerve cell might need to do.

Looking at the whole brain

Many of the workings of the brain are a mystery, but neuroscientists are working at figuring it out from many different angles, sometimes from the level of the whole brain, sometimes at the level of behaviour, sometimes from the level of the nerve cell.

Demonstrate a dissection of a mammalian brain (we use brains isolated from laboratory animals, preserved sheep brains are available from Fisher Scientific here). A very detailed manual for the dissection of a sheep brain is available from the University of Guelph

Provide gloves to students and allow them to touch and describe the brain as you point out major structures.

Once students have seen the whole brain, direct them back to the idea of the cells involved with the brain. An important part of many areas of health science research is our understanding of organs from the level of cells. We can understand some of our nervous system functions by thinking about the cells. A couple of examples of nerve cells at work:

What happens when you touch a hot stove? Are nerves involved? How?

Set up 10-20 of items on a table in the classroom (toys, books, etc.) and give students one minute to memorize all of the things that are there. Have them put their heads down on their desks and then remove, change or add items on the table. Let them look again, and ask them to determine how many changes have taken place, seeing if the class can reach some consensus. How are nerve cells involved here?

What does a nerve cell have to do? Think about what your nervous system has to do (send messages over long distances etc.)

Design a neuron

In groups, have students think about what a nerve cell might look like. On chart paper, they can design their idea of a nerve cell, draw it out and present it to the class.

Show students some images of nerve cells (see accompanying PowerPoint presentation). What makes these cells able to do their job? Explain the parts of the neuron.

Show the time-lapse video of neuron growth. This is linked to what is happening in their brains as they did the memory game. Cells are forming new connections by extending their processes.

Act out a neuron

Students will act out neuron function by modelling a giant neuron. This can be done simply with students and some rope, or you can design one that will better illustrate signal transmission, following the directions from page 8 of the Society for Neuroscience experiments and activities booklet:

Simply, use the rope to represent the axon of the cell. Have one student hold each end: one will be the synaptic terminal and the other will be the cell body. Around the cell body student, have a few other students stand with their arms out. They are the dendrites, and their job is to receive chemical signals from other cells. Explain that a signal is passed down the axon (demonstrated by a quick shake of the rope from cell body to synaptic terminal. When that signal reaches the terminal, a chemical messenger is released to signal other cells. We like to use 1.5ml plastic tubes to represent ‘chemicals’, but anything (balls of paper, etc.) can work. Demonstrate the action of the single neuron, from the dendrites receiving the signal (tubes) to the cell body transmitting the signal, to the synaptic terminal releasing a chemical signal. Have other students form other neurons around the class, and get them to try and transmit a signal around the room. The teacher’s desk might be the brain, sending a signal to another part of the room.


Although neuroscience has given us many insights into the structure and function of our brain and nervous system, it represents a field in which much remains unknown. Although we have learned much about cell function in the nervous system, when it comes to billions of cells either working together to create memories and form consciousness or their function in disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Autism, there is much research to be done. As part of their learning about body systems and health, students will be introduced to the relationship between nervous system structure and function. We typically implement this lesson following an investigation of heart disease from cells to system, allowing a contrast of cell specialization. By looking at the whole brain and demonstrating the function of neurons, students can investigate connections to memory, disease and current research.


Learn more about neuroscience at the St. Boniface Hospital Albrechtsen Research Centre: