Western Institute for Neuroscience boosts impact with open science

The Western Institute for Neuroscience is committing to open science principles
The Western Institute for Neuroscience is committing to open science principles in all’its research, including sharing data, algorithms and physical materials or tools. (Frank Neufeld)
Western Institute for Neuroscience (WIN) is Western University’s first official open science institute.

The institute partnered with McGill University’s Tanenbaum Open Science Institute (TOSI) and BrainsCAN to develop a framework that outlines WIN’s commitment to implement open science across the institute and provides researchers with hands-on guidelines and best practices.

By becoming a TOSI-designated open science institute, the WIN joins a growing network of five major Canadian research institutes focusing on neuroscience and mental health, all’aiming to change research by embracing open science and collaboration.

"Open science has been shown to improve not only the quality of work we do, but its impact, which is the goal," said vice-president (research) Penny Pexman. "Research institutes provide unique opportunities to champion approaches like these, and I am thrilled to see WIN take a leadership role by implementing this new framework.-

Shawn Whitehead

Open science is the concept of sharing data, information, tools and research results to eliminate barriers for collaboration and maximize research impact. It also fosters a more open approach to research that includes diverse voices and builds capacity in tackling society’s greatest challenges.

"One of our goals for WIN is to make our research more accessible and reproducible, both of which build trust with our community and accelerate knowledge mobilization and impact," said WIN’s interim director Shawn Whitehead. "We are grateful to TOSI for supporting us with this award to ensure that open science is a foundational core principle for WIN."

The final framework includes six guiding principles t’hat will support WIN researchers in voluntarily integrating open science into their p rojects from start to finish. It comes after three years of extensive community consultations to identify open science needs, existing barriers and shape the new guidelines.

Ali Khan

Researchers are encouraged to openly share research outputs and tools, including publications, data, algorithms or physical material s’used in experiments.

"It’s difficult to add open science to a project when you’re in the middle or near the end, but if you follow open science principles from ’day one,’ when you design your study, it becomes natural and easy to do," said Ali Khan , a medical biophysics professor at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

He co-led WIN’s open science initiative with Schulich professor Marco Prado.

"The framework can help someone who is well-versed in open science to level-up by making use of open tools, open data and open infrastructure, but it is also useful for people that have never used open science practices at all," Khan said.

In recent years, open science has become a key concept in maximizing the societal impact of research - and for neuroscience specifically, in unlocking the mysteries of the brain. It provides numerous benefits, such as making research results transparent and reproducible. That accelerates advances in the field by fostering collaboration.

"It just makes so much sense. If we make experiments findable, accessible and reproducible, that means other people don’t have to do that same work again and can take that research to the next level," said Ryan Salewski , Western’s BrainsCAN associate director, who managed this initiative.

"For people who are affected by neurodegenerative diseases, they just want everyone working on solutions as much as they can. In my mind, we have a duty to these people to not withhold data." - Ryan Salewski , Western’s BrainsCAN associate director

In addition to open data sharing, WIN has also taken steps to ensure its new policy empowers interested or affected groups and non-academic partners. WIN is the first TOSI-designated open science institute to include a commitment to Indigenous data sovereignty in its open science framework. The institute pledges to work with Indigenous partners to ensure that any Indigenous data and knowledge is handled in a way that respects their rights and interests.

TOSI contributed $100,000 through their National Incentive Fund to help WIN launch and sustain its framework, which was matched by BrainsCAN.

TOSI will continue funding in coming years at $45,000 per year, matched by WIN, which will be used to build resources and capacity within the institute’s community to effectively implement open science. As a first step, WIN has hired an open science officer to manage its open science initiatives and help researchers with questions related to open science best practices, such as informed consent or data privacy and security.

"We are thrilled to welcome WIN into the TOSI family,- said Dr. Guy Rouleau, director of The Neuro and co-founder of TOSI. "With several open science initiatives and champions already, WIN is a natural addition to our growing group of partners and will undoubtedly strengthen our national efforts to make open science the norm in neuroscience.-

WIN hopes its commitment to open science will lead to interdisciplinary collaboration and information sharing across the neuroscience community and beyond to accelerate life-saving research breakthroughs. The institute also sees potential in its framework becoming a blueprint for other units at Western interested in adopting open science principles. To help WIN researchers learn more about open science and its role in research, the institute is hosting a launch event on Friday May 31 .