Stemming from experience: uOBMRI names long-time researcher Dr. Ruth Slack as new director
Those who know Dr. Ruth Slack recognize the strengths she has to lead the uOttawa Brain and Mind Research Institute (uOBMRI) as its new director. The Institute brings together top researchers from many disciplines, including international leaders in their fields. Together they enhance the understanding of how the brain functions and develop effective new therapies to treat brain damage and neurological and psychiatric disorders. Taking charge of the bustling research hub is surely exciting, and no doubt demanding.
Dr. Slack has always had many plates spinning at uOttawa. Between balancing leadership roles at the Faculty of Medicine and beyond, she also manages an internationally recognized program in neuronal stem cell research. We sat down with her to find out what drew her to this challenging new role and to learn about her vision for the Institute’s continued success.
How do you hope to make your mark as director of uOBMRI?
I’ve been with the uOBMRI as a researcher since the very beginning, in 2012, and it’s been gratifying to watch it blossom into a world-class hive of activity in brain and mind research. Now, as director, I’m excited to begin a broad consultation of the Institute’s members to re-evaluate and re-define our research priorities based on our strengths, values and future directions. We have a great opportunity to drive and accelerate brain and mind research in Ottawa. There’s amazing talent and expertise here that has tremendous potential.
What are you most looking forward to?
I’m eager to continue to transform brain and mind research by assembling our top researchers into highly interactive teams across faculties and affiliated partner institutions. Fostering this collaboration is critical in developing new knowledge and treatments so that we can change the lives of individuals suffering from neurological and psychiatric disorders.
It sounds like you have a well-defined vision for the uOBMRI.
Yes! Overall, I’d like the Institute to continue to expand outreach and fundraising activities, with a focus on leveraging our resources and building partnerships locally, nationally and internationally. And, of course, it’s essential that we continue to draw top researchers from across multiple disciplines, in order to discover new fundamental insights and develop new therapies.
Why is collaboration so critical for advancing brain research?
I believe strong collaborative ties with multidisciplinary researchers lead to ground-breaking research. As technology becomes increasingly complex, we need to bring together many minds to successfully solve critical research questions. Then, when fundamental discoveries are made, it’s only through collaboration that those discoveries can be translated into applications with immediate impact on patients. In my view, collaborating with the many outstanding researchers here is a real privilege, and enables us to make major discoveries.
Why does the uOBMRI engage patients and communities so actively?
Connecting with the community is vital to our progress. We involve community members in the planning of new research initiatives, and ask them what they’d like to know about brain and mind research. We also explain how our research discoveries will impact those suffering from neurological and psychiatric disorders. They participate in our fundraising initiatives as well, for which we are so grateful — it’s so important for the work we do.
You’ve spent your career researching the brain. What is your current focus?
My lab focuses on developing novel strategies to treat stroke and neurodegenerative diseases by taking advantage of the brain’s own regenerative capacity. It has a fascinating, incredible potential to restore its damaged tissue. Specifically, we study stem cells and the decisions they make in restoring the brain’s function — a subject I fell in love with as a PhD student here in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine.
What qualities have made you the leader you are?
An eagerness to collaborate has been crucial in realizing my research’s potential and will be more important than ever for me as director of uOBMRI. A leader should also be creative, and I feel I’m able to think outside the box to develop new ideas and creative solutions, and to overcome obstacles. Finally, persistence! As scientists, we’re driven to pursue answers at the bench. I never give up until I have reached my goal, and as uOBMRI’s new director, I look forward to taking on the challenges and celebrating the successes that lie ahead.