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Sleep-related Funding a Dream Come True

February 14, 2022

National funding awarded to Health Sciences Centre doctor for his work in epilepsy and REM sleep

Dr. Marcus Ng was recently awarded funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research: “It was a huge shock to be honest. It was unexpected, but completely welcome.” 

On July 22, 2021, Dr. Marcus Ng said to himself: “Pinch me, I must be dreaming!”

No pinch was necessary, as Dr. Ng’s good news about receiving game-changing funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) was entirely true. Much like how Health Sciences Centre Foundation donors found merit in supporting Dr. Ng’s work, so did CIHR.

Dr. Ng has devoted much of his working—and waking—life to discovering whether rapid eye movement (REM) dream sleep can help isolate tissue in the brain that causes seizures in epilepsy patients.

The over-arching goal of Dr. Ng’s study is to see if the brain waves that happen in REM sleep can pin-point the part of the brain that is seizing to guide neurosurgeons on where to operate to put an end to a patient’s seizures. When asked how he originally came up with the idea to research this area, Dr. Ng simply and humbly states: “we stand on the shoulders of giants.”

“This idea came when I was in Boston at a teaching session with an epileptologist, who is now one of my mentors, and she happened to have a lecture for us trainees on sleep and epilepsy,” says Dr. Ng. “Earlier on in Toronto I had done an elective in sleep neurology, and I heard someone mention casually that seizures don’t usually happen in REM sleep. Most said, ‘that’s kind of cool’ and then they moved on, but I never got over it. So, I asked the same question to my mentor, and we did a systematic review of 42 studies, looking at thousands of seizures from hundreds of patients, and lo and behold, only one percent of seizures happen in REM. This has really helped the field take off.”

Dr. Marcus Ng assessing patient Gertrude (photo taken prior to COVID-19).

CIHR invests approximately one billion dollars each year across all four pillars of health research: biomedical; clinical; health systems services; and population health. Thanks to CIHR’s funding, Dr. Ng can focus on his important research and lessen the amount of time spent on securing additional funding. Dr. Ng believes that receiving CIHR’s funding would not have been possible without first receiving the HSC Foundation’s General Operating Grant in 2017. The General Operating Grant allowed Dr. Ng to make some key preliminary discoveries before going national. It also allowed him to draft a blueprint for a computational neuroscience research laboratory where talented Manitoban researchers who share his passion for brain health can all work together in the hopes of one day, literally dreaming seizures away.

Having seen and experienced the impact of an HSC Foundation grant, Dr. Ng decided to become a donor himself so that others may benefit from the power of philanthropy.


Today on International Epilepsy Day, we invite you to join Dr. Ng and make a gift to support health care excellence at HSC. There are about 20,000 people living with epilepsy in Manitoba. Many will benefit directly from your support and Dr. Ng’s important research. To make a donation to HSC Foundation’s Advancing Seizure and Epilepsy Care Fund, please contact us at 204-515-5612 or reference the fund in our online donation form.


-Heather Milne