TDRA Bids Farewell to Executive Director Dr. Sandra Black

September 3, 2020

On September 7th, 2020, the Toronto Dementia Research Alliance (TDRA) will bid farewell to its current Executive Director Dr. Sandra Black.

Since 2012, this University of Toronto-led collaboration among Baycrest, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Sunnybrook, the University Health Network and previously St. Michael’s Hospital has been leading multi-site research studies and building research infrastructure to better understand, prevent and treat dementia, under the leadership of Dr. Sandra Black.

Dr. Black, a Senior Scientist in Evaluative Clinical Sciences at Sunnybrook Research Institute and a world-renowned cognitive and stroke neurologist for over 30 years, has fearlessly led the TDRA with groundbreaking accomplishments. Under her leadership, the TDRA worked with their dedicated governance committees to establish city-wide clinical trials that involved all partner sites, streamline processes for recruitment into dementia clinical trials across Toronto, build partnerships to enhance dementia care and research, and engage people with lived experience in their work by establishing a Patient Family Advisory Council.

“The success of TDRA can be largely credited to Dr. Black. She has helped to ensure, along with our valued partners, that we harness the skills and facilities in Toronto to better understand, prevent and treat dementia. She has done this while still conducting her own internationally-recognized work on stroke, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. I am very thankful for her leadership,” said Dr. Trevor Young, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto and a co-chair of TDRA’s Executive Committee.

In honour of these achievements, the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine – in partnership with each of the TDRA hospitals – will establish an endowed award in Dr. Black’s name. The Sandra Black Award will recognize clinical trainees for excellence in dementia research.

One of the many highlights of Dr. Black’s tenure as the Executive Director of the TDRA was her leadership on the Dementia Clinical Research Database project, which aimed to standardize the collection of patient data across different dementia diagnoses at Toronto’s memory clinics. A key achievement of this project was the development of the Toronto Cognitive Assessment (TorCA), a standardized 30-40 minute cognitive test on an iPAD to detect the early stages of memory problems, which was created in collaboration with TDRA partners and used across all partner sites. The database was then developed as a way to store this patient data in Ontario Brain Institute’s Brain-CODE database and make it available for research purposes, helping to identify the clinical differences between different types of thinking and memory problems.

“This has been a foundational project for the TDRA, exemplifying how research can be embedded in care in a continuously learning healthcare system whereby our comprehensive assessments of the patients we see in our specialty clinics can generate a detailed, accessible letter to the referring physician and care teams, and, with consent, also be uploaded into a database that can be analyzed to improve care. Informed by exciting advances in brain imaging and blood biomarkers that reveal molecular brain pathologies as never before, this will accelerate our advance toward personalized brain medicine in the dementias,” says Dr. Black.

Currently, more than 2100 participants’ data are stored in the database with patient’s consent, with plans to initiate new research studies using this database in the near future.

Dr. Black’s leadership, as well as her dedication and contributions to dementia research and the clinical care of people with dementia, have made the TDRA what it is today. And although stepping down as Executive Director, Dr. Black will remain actively involved with the TDRA as a member of the governance committees and a lead in bringing together researchers from across Toronto.

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Learn more about the appointment of TDRA’s new Executive Director.

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