The Weston Brain Institute has allocated more than $30 million in funding for Canadian research projects on neurodegenerative diseases of aging.

“The lack of treatments for neurodegenerative diseases of aging, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, has been called the biggest unmet need in modern medicine,” says Alexandra Stewart, executive director at the Weston Brain Institute, in a release. “The funding we’ve committed to these incredible Canadian scientists focuses on projects with the potential to make the greatest impact in this field.”

The funding is a part of the larger $100 million announced in 2016 by the Weston Brain Institute for high-risk, high-reward translational research projects with the potential to help speed up the development of treatments for neurodegenerative diseases of aging.

The institute grants through a number of programs, enabling researchers to receive funding and support based on the stage of the project and funding needed. This announcement highlights the more than $30 million directly granted since 2012 toward its Early Phase Clinical Trials, Rapid Response, Transformational Research, and targeted programs. This brings the total funds allocated to date for Canadian researchers to more than $45 million.

The Institute’s Scientific Advisory Committee provides guidance to the Institute regarding overall strategy, program development, and program design.  Grantees are selected by committees composed of these advisors plus additional experts selected based on the applications under discussion. Both these groups are comprised of world-class international researchers.

About the Grants

The Early Phase Clinical Trials Program (up to $1.7 million) supports Phase I and IIa clinical trials. This is an innovative funding opportunity whereby applicants have optional access to clinical trials design experts to help improve their study designs.  Grantees include:

  • Dr. John Breitner of McGill University/Douglas Health Research Institute: leading a placebo-controlled randomized phase I/IIa trial to test whether increases in ApoE through administration of probucol (a cholesterol-lowering drug) can have protective effects in people at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia.
  • Dr. Elizabeth Finger of Western University: testing the safety, tolerability, and preliminary efficacy of intranasal oxytocin as a treatment for apathy, indifference, and lack of empathy in patients with frontotemporal dementia.
  • Dr. Marta Kaminska of McGill University: examining the effects of long-acting levodopa on obstructive sleep apnea in Parkinson’s disease patients in a pilot proof-of-concept trial.
  • Dr. Zahra Kazem-Moussavi of University of Manitoba: investigating the efficacy of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) in treating Alzheimer’s disease in a placebo-controlled, randomized, phase IIa clinical trial.
  • Dr. Stephen Pasternak of St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation: investigating whether ambroxol, a cough medicine, can reduce Parkinson’s disease dementia in a placebo-controlled, randomized phase IIa trial.
  • Dr. Pedro Rosa-Neto of Douglas Hospital Research Centre: testing in a first-in-human trial the safety and efficacy of a new drug that can potentially cross the blood brain barrier and promote amyloid clearance in early Alzheimer’s disease patients.

The Rapid Response Program (up to $200,000) provides seed funding for novel projects. This program runs with the quickest granting process to enable researchers to promptly explore high-risk, high-reward ideas and catalyze future projects.  Grantees include:

  • Dr. Gary Armstrong of University of Montreal: tested whether pimozide, a neuroleptic drug, protects synaptic function in animal models of ALS.
  • Dr. Isabelle Aubert of Sunnybrook Research Institute: tested using MRI-guided focused ultrasound to deliver a potential amyloid-targeting Alzheimer’s drug into the brain of mice.
  • Dr. Mallar Chakravarty of Douglas Hospital Foundation (2 grants): aimed to enhance treatment of AD by identifying those who are more likely to respond deep brain stimulation; and developing biomarkers that can reliably identify people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease through minimally-invasive and automated techniques.
  • Dr. Howard Chertkow of Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research: investigated the use of salivary tau as a biomarker for early Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Dr. Pieter Cullis of University of British Columbia: investigated the use of lipid nanoparticles to carry and deliver biologic therapies for ALS and Huntington’s disease.
  • Dr. Mark W. Erwin of Toronto Western Hospital: transplanting neural stem cells non-invasively to the spinal cord in mice as a potential treatment for ALS.
  • Dr. Susan George of University of Toronto/Dr. Melissa Perreault of University of Guelph: validating GSK-3 as a potential therapeutic target for Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Dr. Benoit Gosselin of Laval University: developed an innovative wireless device to monitor an animal’s real-time responses to drugs which is now commercially available.
  • Dr. David Kaplan of Hospital for Sick Children: tested two anti-cancer drugs, bosutinib and ponatinib, to determine if they can be repurposed to prevent neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s disease.
  • Dr. Iva Kulic of University of British Columbia: validating P2X7 as a therapeutic target to treat Alzheimer’s diseases.
  • Dr. Daniel Levesque of University of Montreal: performing a high-throughput screen to identify compounds that target Nurr1/RXR as potential therapeutics for Parkinson’s disease.
  • Dr. Joanne McLaurin of Sunnybrook Research Institute: testing a combined stem cell transplant and Abeta lowering therapeutic intervention in a mouse model to treat vascular contributions to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Dr. Romina Mizrahi of Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: tested a novel PET ligand (FEPPA) for neuroinflammation as a biomarker for mild cognitive impairment.
  • Dr. David Park of University of Ottawa: validated two proteins involved in immune system function, LRRK2-WAVE2, as a therapeutic target in Parkinson’s.
  • Dr. Tarek Rajji of Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: conducting non-invasive magnetic brain stimulation in patients with mild cognitive impairment to improve memory.
  • Dr. Jerome Robert of University of British Columbia: developing bioengineered 3D human brain cell models that could accelerate therapeutic development by serving as an intermediary drug testing platform between animal testing and human clinical trials.
  • Dr. Ekaterina Rogaeva of University of Toronto (2 grants): developed a novel method to analyze the methylation status of C9orf72 repeat expansions with the goal of developing biomarkers for ALS and FTD.
  • Dr. Antonio Strafella of Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: tested a novel PET ligand (FEPPA) for neuroinflammation as a biomarker for Parkinson’s disease.
  • Dr. Peter Stys of University of Calgary: developing a simple and inexpensive blood test for routine screening for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Dr. Anurag Tandon of University of Toronto: using ultrasound to deliver an immunotherapeutic to clear alpha-synuclein as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
  • Dr. Carmela Tartaglia of University Health Network: testing a novel tau-binding PET imaging tracer to diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy in retired CFL athletes and to differentiate them from Alzheimer’s disease patients.
  • Dr. Julianna Tomlinson of Ottawa Hospital Research Institute: developing a new mouse model to speed up the development of treatments for Parkinson’s disease.
  • Dr. Beibei Zhao of University of British Columbia: testing the efficacy of a potential therapeutic vaccine for ALS in preclinical studies.

The Transformational Research Program (up to $1.5 million) supports high-potential, larger, longer projects with excellent preliminary data. Grantees include:

  • Dr. Mitchell Albert of Lakehead University: testing Xenon as a new MRI imaging agent to increase the image contrast of brain scans.
  • Dr. Isabelle Aubert of Sunnybrook Research Institute: combining MRI-guided focused ultrasound technology with gene therapy to reduce amyloid build-up and prevent degeneration in Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Dr. Steffany Bennett of Ottawa Hospital Research Institute: identifying how a family of fats (sphingolipids) can be used as biomarkers to map disease progression in Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
  • Dr. Francois Gros-Louis of Laval University: identifying biomarkers for ALS from patient skin biopsies.
  • Dr. Philippe Huot of University of Montreal: leveraging new drug combinations to alleviate Parkinson’s disease-related psychosis and dyskinesia.
  • Dr. Kullervo Hynynen of Sunnybrook Research Institute: developing a focused ultrasound helmet to transiently open the blood-brain barrier to deliver drugs to the brain.
  • Dr. Haakon Nygaard of University of British Columbia: Testing novel compounds that can restore the production of normal progranulin protein as a potential therapy for frontotemporal dementia.
  • Dr. David Park of University of Ottawa: validated the Pink-Letm1 and the mitochondria-calcium pathway as a therapeutic target for Parkinson’s disease.
  • Dr. Marco Prado of University of Western Ontario: developing an automated, touch screen based rodent attention and memory test to enable higher throughput drug testing.
  • Dr. Elizabeth Simpson of University of British Columbia: developing promoters that enable delivery of gene therapy to specific neurons and brain regions for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Dr. A. Jon Stoessl of University of British Columbia: imaging tau accumulation to develop a new diagnostic tool to differentiate between Parkinson’s disease and similar diseases.
  • Dr. Jacques Tremblay of Laval University: developing a gene editing system to correct the disease form of the amyloid gene to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Dr. Jackalina Van Kampen of University of Prince Edward Island: characterizing a new mouse model of Parkinson’s disease, to be used as a tool for screening disease-modifying therapies.
  • Dr. Cheryl Wellington of University of British Columbia: modelling traumatic brain injury in mice to develop a biobank of samples of prodromal Alzheimer’s disease.

Targeted programs provide support for outstanding translational research in ALS, frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP).  Given these diseases share related pathologies, work here is likely to advance research in other neurodegenerative diseases of aging. Grantees include:

  • Dr. Blair Leavitt of University of British Columbia: developing a new mouse model to investigate therapeutics targeting progranulin for the treatment of FTD.
  • Dr. Yingfu Li of McMaster University: developing a new technique to identify biomarkers for earlier detection of ALS.
  • Dr. Mario Masellis of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre: identifying genomic and neuro imaging biomarkers using patient data from the GENetic Frontotemporal dementia initiative (GENFI) program.
  • Dr. Christopher Pearson of Hospital for Sick Children: stabilizing C9orf72 gene repeat expansion by modulating activity of DNA repair proteins as a potential therapeutic for ALS and FTD.
  • Dr. Janice Robertson of University of Toronto: using computer and mouse models to identify new drug candidates targeting misfolded proteins in ALS.
  • Dr. Donald Weaver of University Health Network: synthesizing small molecules that can prevent the misfolding of tau protein to treat PSP and FTD.