Jan. 26, 2022

Transformational $25-million gift will spur novel team approach to accelerate advances in neurodevelopment research at UCalgary

New Accelerator ignites critical research and entrepreneurial initiatives to improve quality of life for those affected by neurodevelopmental disabilities

Calgary, AB – The University of Calgary, a leader in neurodevelopment research, has received a $25-million gift from the Azrieli Foundation that will launch a multidisciplinary team approach to develop a greater understanding of neurodevelopmental disabilities (NDDs). It will accelerate research leading to groundbreaking therapies and programs to support thousands of neurodiverse individuals and their families. 

NDDs are a significant societal issue. They include conditions such as autism and ADHD and affect up to 17 per cent of Canadian children. Most often diagnosed in childhood, the challenges individuals with NDDs and their families face can affect their health, social and economic well-being into adulthood, and have long-term implications for overall quality of life. 

The Azrieli Foundation is the largest non-corporate foundation in Canada. This is its first significant investment in Western Canada. CEO and Chair Naomi Azrieli says that, after an extensive national scoping exercise, the Foundation is honoured to have UCalgary as its new partner in its mission to improve the lives of neurodiverse people. 

UCalgary has a powerful combination: world-class researchers in multiple fields, a philosophy of thinking outside traditional academic silos and, finally, the institutional power to effectively implement innovative research. They have a proven track record of producing successful interdisciplinary initiatives and rewarding collaboration. 

-Naomi Azrieli, DPhil, Chair and CEO, The Azrieli Foundation Canada 

Azrieli continues: "This initiative is especially close to the hearts of the Azrieli family which includes several members with neurodevelopmental disabilities. My sisters, Sharon and Danna, and I have made this a key part of our mission. We are excited to see what our partners at UCalgary will accomplish.” 

This gift from the Azrieli Foundation will establish the Azrieli Accelerator at UCalgary, which will build on the university’s established excellence in life sciences, brain and mental health, and child health research, as well as its reputation for world-class research facilities and leadership in microbiome research in Canada. Dr. Susan Graham, PhD, who also leads the Owerko Centre at UCalgary and is an internationally recognized researcher in language and cognitive development, will be the inaugural scientific director for the Azrieli Accelerator when the program formally launches this spring.  

Neurodevelopmental disorders arise from differences in how the brain forms and functions, and there are many variations in how those differences affect the full life experience of individuals and families. The Accelerator will specifically advance research on brain circuit development and the microbiome (to better understand the influence of the environment on brain development and the brain-gut axis), as well as initiatives within the community to unlock potential and directly improve the well-being and quality of life of those living with neurodevelopmental disabilities.  

This tremendous and generous gift from the Azrieli Foundation will allow us to transform neurodevelopment research with a new focus on the full lifespan. We are thrilled to take our recognized research in neurodevelopmental disorders to the next level, helping to drive impact for more neurodiverse children, teens and adults in our community, and across the world. 

-Dr. Susan Graham, PhD, director, Owerko Centre, Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute; scientific director, Azrieli Accelerator, and professor of psychology, University of Calgary 

UCalgary President Ed McCauley acknowledges the Azrieli Foundation’s reputation for transformative investments in extraordinary programs around the world. The Foundation recognized UCalgary’s collaborative approach to research, including strong connections with community partners. Funding provided by the Azrieli Accelerator will allow research teams to hit the ground running on big, bold projects that will pull together scholars from multiple disciplines — ranging from medical and social sciences to technology and policy — to think about neurodevelopmental disorders and neurodiversity in a holistic way.  

Thanks to this generous gift from the Azrieli Foundation, we will be able to activate new collaborations across UCalgary. The Accelerator will act as a catalyst for transdisciplinary collaboration and phenomenal impact, in keeping with the Azrieli Foundation’s reputation for exceptional innovation. Research with impact is at the heart of UCalgary. 

-Dr. Ed McCauley, PhD, president and vice-chancellor, University of Calgary

The Azrieli Accelerator will transform neurodevelopment research across the lifespan through collaborative and transdisciplinary teams committed to improving the lives of all those affected by neurodevelopmental disabilities. This new initiative — made possible by the Azrieli Foundation — will enhance collaborations across the university, in the community and throughout the global network. It builds upon the university’s more than 50-year history of advancing related research, which has been supported by transformative investments by government, community partners and generous philanthropists, including the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation; the Owerko, Cumming, Hotchkiss, Snyder, Mathison and Fenwick families; and many others.