Matthew Farrer

Matthew Farrer

Canada Excellence Research Chair in Neurogenetics and Translational Neuroscience

The University of British Columbia

“We are delighted to welcome Dr. Farrer to UBC and Vancouver to join an already stellar cluster of world-renowned brain and neuroscience researchers based here. This investment will undoubtedly yield breakthroughs in knowledge and treatment for brain diseases and injuries.”

― Stephen Toope, president, The University of British Columbia


An ambitious researcher, Matthew Farrer has made several influential discoveries in neurogenetics, and is critically acclaimed for his work on the genetics of Parkinson’s disease.

Before accepting his position as Canada Excellence Research Chair in Neurogenetics and Translational Neuroscience at UBC, Farrer was a professor of molecular neuroscience and director of the Division of Neurogenetics, several neurogenetics laboratories, and the Transgenic Core Facility, at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Farrer was named a Mayo Clinic Distinguished Investigator in 2008—the clinic’s highest award for research excellence—for his outstanding contributions to neurogenetics and translational neuroscience.

Farrer is currently cited as having made some of the greatest contributions to Parkinson’s disease research in the past decade. Genetic discoveries from his group—subsequent model and assay development—provide the foundation for new and effective therapies that promise symptomatic benefit by halting disease progression. Farrer also holds the Dr. Donald Rix British Columbia Leadership Chair in Genetic Medicine, supported through the province of British Columbia, Life Labs and Genome BC.

Farrer received his PhD in human genetics from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School, Imperial College London, UK, and has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from King’s College London, UK. He was also a postdoctoral fellow in medical and community genetics at St. Mark’s National Health Service Trust, Harrow, UK.

New Treatments for Neurodegenerative Disease

Ten million Canadians—or nearly one‑third of Canada’s population—will be affected by brain disease, disorder or brain injury at some time in their life. Aside from the physical and emotional burdens for those affected, as well as for their families and caregivers, the financial burden of treating such diseases is estimated to cost Canadians $30 billion annually.

Although remarkable discoveries have been made throughout the last century about the brain’s anatomy and functions, far less is known about how best to intervene when these functions become disordered or diseased. Matthew Farrer, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Neurogenetics and Translational Neuroscience at The University of British Columbia (UBC), is working to pioneer new strategies for early detection and improved treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.

At UBC, Farrer has established the Centre for Applied Neurogenetics (CAN)—an international consortium of clinicians and scientists studying the molecular origins of brain diseases using new genetic and computing technologies. CAN is presently housed within the Brain Research Centre and UBC Hospital, part of Vancouver Coastal Health, and is to become an integral part of a new Centre for Brain Health.

Through the CAN program, Farrer’s team is helping train the next generation of clinicians and scientists to work in neurology, neurogenetics, neuroscience and neuropsychiatry. They are advancing public health policies by improving our understanding of neurologic and neurodegenerative disease, and building strong links between academia and industry to help turn discoveries into practical treatments.



Release date

October 11, 2011

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The goal of my research is to integrate three different disciplines. It’s clinical neurology, it’s molecular neuroscience and it’s genetics. And to take advantage of all the latest technologies in those different fields and then integrate them together.

In terms of career achievements in the past ten years, really I’d have to say it’s the application of genetics in movement disorders, and in neurodegenerative movement disorders, such as Parkinson's disease and related conditions. A much deeper understanding of the molecular problems processes in the brain that are going awry, and the use of that information to create novel therapeutics, basically to treat those degenerative conditions.

The strengths of the University of British Columbia, they are the imaging here—the nuclear physics facility and the medical imaging‑to be able to see the processes happening in the brain, in real time. The Brain Research Centre is incredibly strong in basic neuroscience. I wouldn't say basic neuroscience, it's more applied neuroscience. It's developing assays and looking at processes within neurons themselves, developing assays for compound screening.

There is The Centre of Molecular Medicinal Therapeutics, that’s incredibly strong. There are a number of, well, all of the researchers at the CMMT are world‑renowned in their own areas.

I’m very focused about what I want to do. And that’s really to make a difference in the lives of families, the lives of children in those families, and all family members, and to solve some of these neurological degenerative conditions.

Together, I think we can make a difference. We can understand the molecular problems in these different diseases and we can develop some therapeutics to prevent those diseases from happening in the first place. They can have more than just symptomatic benefit, but they are also going to have neuro-protective benefits, so they can prevent the disease process from continuing. And if we can apply those drugs early enough, they can prevent the disease altogether.

This is my objective over the next…it is probably going to take me 30 years, but I’m going to do it.