Kolb, Dr. Bryan

2004 Winner: Outstanding Leadership In Alberta Science

Leading The Way In Brain Research

Dr. Bryan Kolb is one of the founding fathers of modern behavioural neuroscience in Canada. Over the past two decades, he has challenged long-held scientific beliefs about the brain’s structure, organization and ability to regenerate, with profound implications for treatment of brain injury, drug addiction, and conditions such as stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

Developing a New Area of Study

When Dr. Kolb began his training, the field of behavioural neuroscience was so primitive there were no textbooks on the subject. As a post-doctoral fellow at the Montreal Neurological Institute in the 1970s, Dr. Kolb developed the first course in human neuropsychology. In 1980, in collaboration with colleague Dr. Ian Whishaw, he wrote the definitive neuropsychology textbook, Fundamentals of Human Neuropsychology, which is a standard reference worldwide. Dr. Kolb and his team were the first in the world to demonstrate that the brains of mammals could regenerate after injury under certain conditions, contrary to traditional scientific belief. He also overturned a scientific myth that children recover better than adults from brain injury, by showing that there are critical times when the reverse is true.

Among Dr. Kolb’s greatest contributions are studies showing remarkable similarities in the cerebral cortex – the part of the brain that controls behaviour – across mammal species. This knowledge has allowed researchers to use rats to mimic human conditions in the laboratory. Dr. Kolb’s team was the first to show that chronic use of psychoactive drugs can cause long-lasting, possibly permanent changes in brain structure.

Significant Accomplishments

As a founder and principal investigator of the Canadian Stroke Network, Dr. Kolb has made significant contributions to understanding how to treat stroke. His findings are now being transferred from bench to bedside in more effective therapies for stroke victims. Dr. Kolb’s scientific leadership over the past two decades has contributed to the evolution of a group of world-class behavioural neuroscientists at the University of Lethbridge. His leadership is also credited with the recent creation of the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, which attracts visiting researchers from all over the globe to Lethbridge.

Dr. Kolb has earned numerous honours, including the Hebb Lecturer prize from Dalhousie University and the Hebb Prize from both the Canadian Psychological Association and the Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science. No other scientist has won all three Hebb prizes. He is a member of the prestigious International Neuropsychology Symposium – known as the “Group of One Hundred” – comprising the world’s most eminent behavioural neuroscientists.