Torben Bech-Hansen

Dr. Nils Torben Bech-Hansen


Professor - Medicine

Cumming School of Medicine

Associate Member

Hotchkiss Brain Institute

Child Health & Wellness Researcher

Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute

Contact information

Web presence

Phone number

Office: +1 (403) 220-8387


Educational Background

B.S. Biological Sciences, University of British Columbia, 1968

Doctor of Philosophy Genetic Biology, University of Saskatchewan, 1973

M.S. Genetic Biology, University of British Columbia, 1970


Areas of Research

Molecular Mechanisms

My research focuses on the molecular genetics of retinal neurotransmission. As a geneticist, I got into this area of neurobiology by investigating the genetic causes of a group of patients with impaired night blindness, who have abnormal retinal neurotransmission. Our gene mapping studies lead to the discovery that mutations in the CACNA1F gene, which encodes Cav1.4, and NYK, which encodes the novel protein nyctalopin, causes different forms of congenital stationary night blindness (CSNB). Our findings have thus provided definitive DNA diagnosis for two forms of CSNB. Further studies found that mutations in the GRM6 gene, which codes for the glutamate receptor, mGLUR6, also causes CSNB. these genetic studies were thus able to dissect out critical functions in retinal synapse function and structure. We continue to extend the indentification of the genetic causes of CSNB in patients in whom the gene is still unknown.

Subsequently, we knocked out the Cacna1f gene in the mouse; studies of these mutant mice, which lack the Cav1.4 channel, found that photoreceptor sysnapses were not forming. This provides an explanation for the failure in retinal neurotransmission seen in CSNB patients with mutations in this gene. With the Cacna1f-KO mouse we are now in a position to investigate whether gene therapy can re-establish photoreceptor sysnapses and provide recovery of sight in Cacna1f knockout mice (collaboration with Dr. W. Stell). Such studies are of fundamental interest in context of learning about the plasticity of the photoreceptor synapses and may have potential benefit for patients with CSNB.

We are also studying the variability in clinical features in genetically characterized CSNB patients and how this may be influenced by different gene mutations. Such information will be of help to the retinal specialists who see these patients.

Our interest in the genetics of synaptogenesis have provided a springboard for collaborative studies on genetic risk factors for depression (studies with Dr. R. Ramasubbu) and for SIDS (studies with Dr. R. Wilson), and the genetics of learning and memory in mice (studies with Dr. F. Biddle). Each of these studies is ongoing.

Participation in university strategic initiatives


  • salary support award, 2012
  • salary support award, 2009
  • Roy and Joan Allen Professorship in Sight Research, 2007
  • 4th year of Roy and Joan Allen Professorship in Sight Research, 2005
  • 3rd Year of the Roy and Joan Allen Professorship in Sight Research, University of Calgary, 2004