Rapid Response 2024 program

Program Overview

Letter of Intent deadline: April 30, 2024, at 2:00pm EST

The Weston Family Foundation aims to catalyze and scale science-based approaches to significantly improve the health and well-being of Canadians. The Foundation takes a leadership role in tackling large problems that are under-addressed by supporting research that is particularly relevant to the health of Canadians and that empowers Canadians to improve their health and wellbeing.

The Foundation, through its Weston Brain Institute is pleased to announce the re-launch of our flagship Rapid Response program designed to provide seed funding to catalyze novel, high-risk, high-reward translational research that accelerates the development of therapeutics or tools for neurodegenerative diseases of aging.

Program details:

Eligible projects should:

  • Be translational research that can accelerate therapeutic or tool development for neurodegenerative diseases of aging (NDAs), as defined by the Institute.
    • Therapeutics should address unmet needs in the prevention, treatment and/or symptomatic management of NDAs.
    • Tools should address challenges in translational research to accelerate the development and/or clinical implementation of therapeutics for NDAs (e.g., biomarkers, drug delivery systems). Projects covering only the discovery/identification of a tool are considered out of scope.
  • Have preliminary data to support the hypothesis and feasibility of the project.

Funding available per project: Up to $300,000 over 18-24 months.

Important dates:

  • Program information session: April 2, 2024 at 1pm ET – Register Here
  • Letter of Intent deadline: April 30, 2024
  • Award announcement: November 2024

For more information about this program, including details on project and applicant eligibility, institute definitions (for translational research, NDAs, therapeutics, tools), program review criteria and expected project outcomes, please see the relevant documents below.

We welcome you to contact us with any program-related inquiries including questions about the eligibility or fit of your project. Please send your questions to Teenu Sanjeevan, Senior Program Manager, at teenu.sanjeevan@westonfoundation.ca

Relevant documents:

Congratulations to recipients of the CIHR Knowledge Synthesis and Mobilization Grants

The Weston Family Foundation is proud to have supported the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) “Brain Health and Reduction of Risk for Age-related Cognitive Impairment: Knowledge Synthesis and Mobilization Grant” which is part of the Brain Health and Cognitive Impairment in Aging (BHCIA) Research Initiative led by the CIHR Institute of Aging.

Launched last year, a total of 16 projects awarded will share more than $1.5 million in funding to assess the current state of knowledge and identify strengths and gaps in research areas related to the promotion of brain health and risk reduction for dementia and other age-related cognitive impairment. You can learn more about all the projects funded here.

Through the “Lifestyle Approaches to reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases of aging (LAR)” pool, the Foundation is excited to support the work of Dr. Cindy Barha, Dr. Zahra Goodarzi, and Dr. Laura Middleton.

Follow-on Funding 2023 Program

The Weston Family Foundation, through the Weston Brain Institute, supports research that accelerates the development of therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases of aging (NDAs). The Institute provides seed-funding to high-risk, high reward ideas through its core “Spark-phase” programs. However, given the long development timeline to real-world impact of medical innovations for NDAs, additional investments are needed to scale successful projects coming out of the seed-funding programs towards clinical impact.

The Follow-on Funding (FOF) program was created to provide additional funding to current or past Institute grantees to kick-start the scaling of innovations and technologies that have been previously identified and validated.

In 2023, two projects were awarded approximately $1.5 million each under the FOF program. 

Pedro Rosa Neto, MD, PhD (Principal Investigator); Yasser Iturria-Medina, PhD (Co-Principal Investigator)

Project Title: Tracking the progression of neuroinflammation and tau aggregates in Alzheimer’s Disease

Dr. Pedro Rosa Neto is an Associate Professor of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry at McGill University, affiliated to the Douglas Research Centre.

Dr. Yasser Iturria-Medina is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University.

Through a previous Weston Family Foundation grant, Dr. Rosa Neto and his team found that inflammatory responses suspected to accelerate brain damage in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), play a crucial role in the spreading of tau pathology across brain regions, leading to cognitive decline. Further details about this conclusion can be found in the following publications: Nature Medicine 2023 and JAMA Neurology 2023, among others.

For his Follow-on Funding project, Dr. Rosa Neto aims to better characterize the natural history of these neuroinflammatory responses by conducting an additional 3-year follow-up of participants recruited in his previous research grant. Clinical, imaging, and fluid biomarker data will be collected and analyzed using advanced artificial intelligence techniques, in collaboration with co-PI Dr. Iturria-Medina.  The study will provide important insights on how to design effective therapeutic interventions to mitigate the progression of AD.  

Susan Fox, MD (Principal Investigator), Jonathan Brotchie, PhD (Co-Principal Investigator), Patrick Howson, PhD (Co-Principal Investigator)

Project Title: Development of the combination of trehalose and tannic acid as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease

Dr. Fox is Head of the Division of Neurology at UHN and Sinai Health System. She holds the Krembil Family Chair in Neurology, is the Professor of Neurology at the University of Toronto and is the Associate Director of the Movement Disorders Clinic, Toronto Western Hospital.  

Dr. Jonathan Brotchie is the Chief Executive Officer of Atuka Inc. He was previously a Senior Scientist at UHN from 2002 – 2023.

Dr. Patrick Howson is the Chief Innovation Officer at Atuka Inc.

Previous studies have suggested that trehalose, a sugar compound, can effectively target toxic proteins in several animal models of Parkinson’s disease (PD).  However, larger doses of trehalose to treat people with PD may increase the risk of metabolic disorders, such as diabetes.  Through a previous Weston Family Foundation grant, Dr. Brotchie and his team investigated whether it would be possible to increase trehalose levels in the blood and brain by inhibiting trehalase, the enzyme that breaks down trehalose. Their results showed that this approach is both safe and efficacious.

For the Follow-on Funding project, the research team aims to determine the appropriate dose of trehalose and tannic acid (trehalase inhibitor) and validate the safety of the selected dose. This study embarks on the critical first steps to move trehalose forward as a potential treatment for PD and possibly other neurodegenerative diseases.

Congratulations to the grant recipients of the Follow-on Funding 2023 Program

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The Weston Family Foundation, through the Weston Brain Institute, supports research that accelerates the development of therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases of aging (NDAs). The Institute provides seed-funding to high-risk, high reward ideas through its core “Spark-phase” programs. However, given the long development timeline to real-world impact of medical innovations for NDAs, additional investments are needed to scale successful projects coming out of the seed-funding programs towards clinical impact.

The Follow-on Funding (FOF) program was created to provide additional funding to current or past Institute grantees to kick-start the scaling of innovations and technologies that have been previously identified and validated.

In 2023, two projects were awarded approximately $1.5 million each under the FOF program. 

Pedro Rosa Neto, MD, PhD (Principal Investigator); Yasser Iturria-Medina, PhD (Co-Principal Investigator)

Project Title: Tracking the progression of neuroinflammation and tau aggregates in Alzheimer’s Disease

Dr. Pedro Rosa Neto is an Associate Professor of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry at McGill University, affiliated to the Douglas Research Centre.

Dr. Yasser Iturria-Medina is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University.

Through a previous Weston Family Foundation grant, Dr. Rosa Neto and his team found that inflammatory responses suspected to accelerate brain damage in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), play a crucial role in the spreading of tau pathology across brain regions, leading to cognitive decline. Further details about this conclusion can be found in the following publications: Nature Medicine 2023 and JAMA Neurology 2023, among others.

For his Follow-on Funding project, Dr. Rosa Neto aims to better characterize the natural history of these neuroinflammatory responses by conducting an additional 3-year follow-up of participants recruited in his previous research grant. Clinical, imaging, and fluid biomarker data will be collected and analyzed using advanced artificial intelligence techniques, in collaboration with co-PI Dr. Iturria-Medina.  The study will provide important insights on how to design effective therapeutic interventions to mitigate the progression of AD.  

Susan Fox, MD (Principal Investigator), Jonathan Brotchie, PhD (Co-Principal Investigator), Patrick Howson, PhD (Co-Principal Investigator)

Project Title: Development of the combination of trehalose and tannic acid as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease

Dr. Fox is Head of the Division of Neurology at UHN and Sinai Health System. She holds the Krembil Family Chair in Neurology, is the Professor of Neurology at the University of Toronto and is the Associate Director of the Movement Disorders Clinic, Toronto Western Hospital.  

Dr. Jonathan Brotchie is the Chief Executive Officer of Atuka Inc. He was previously a Senior Scientist at UHN from 2002 – 2023.

Dr. Patrick Howson is the Chief Innovation Officer at Atuka Inc.

Previous studies have suggested that trehalose, a sugar compound, can effectively target toxic proteins in several animal models of Parkinson’s disease (PD).  However, larger doses of trehalose to treat people with PD may increase the risk of metabolic disorders, such as diabetes.  Through a previous Weston Family Foundation grant, Dr. Brotchie and his team investigated whether it would be possible to increase trehalose levels in the blood and brain by inhibiting trehalase, the enzyme that breaks down trehalose. Their results showed that this approach is both safe and efficacious.

For the Follow-on Funding project, the research team aims to determine the appropriate dose of trehalose and tannic acid (trehalase inhibitor) and validate the safety of the selected dose. This study embarks on the critical first steps to move trehalose forward as a potential treatment for PD and possibly other neurodegenerative diseases.

Brain Health: Sleep 2023 program

Program Overview

The Weston Family Foundation, through the Weston Brain Institute, aims to catalyze and scale science-based approaches to significantly improve the health and well-being of Canadians. There is growing evidence that making key lifestyle changes may reduce the risk of brain diseases of aging and slow cognitive decline. 

The Institute is pleased to announce the launch of a new funding opportunity. The Brain Health: Sleep 2023 program seeks to reduce the risk and/or slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases of aging by accelerating the development of healthy lifestyle approaches relating to sleep.

Project Eligibility:

  • Observational or interventional studies that accelerate the development of sleep-based strategies to improve brain-related outcome measures relevant to (or associated with) neurodegenerative diseases of aging. Projects should generate the evidence-base for the future implementation of better therapeutic interventions, guidelines, and recommendations on sleep.
  • Preliminary data is required for this program.

Please refer to the Program Details for a full description.

Funding available per project: Up to $1,200,000 over 3 years.

Important dates:

  • Program information session:  April 25 or June 6, 2023
  • Letter of Intent deadline: July 11, 2023
  • Award announcement: March 2024

For more information about this program, including details on project and applicant eligibility, institute definitions, program review criteria and expected project outcomes, please see the relevant documents below.

We welcome you to contact us with any program related inquiries. Please send your questions to Rene Prashad, Senior Program Manager, rene.prashad@westonfoundation.ca

Relevant Documents

Marina Thornbury

Marina Thornbury joined the Weston Family Foundation in April 2022. As a Grants Coordinator, she is a member of the Operations team and primarily supports the Foundation’s Neuroscience Committee.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Marina worked as an Operations and Volunteer Engagement Assistant with the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), an international membership organization in Washington, DC. Marina holds a Bachelor of Science from St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY, where she studied Neuroscience and Public Health.

$8M in funding awarded for crucial brain health research

As part of its commitment to decreasing neurodegenerative diseases of aging and improving the well-being of Canadians, the Weston Family Foundation is pleased to announce nearly $8 million in funding for brain-health research.

In November 2020, the Foundation launched Brain Health: 2021 – Lifestyle Approaches and Microbiome Contributions. The program, jointly run by the Weston Brain Institute and the Weston Family Microbiome Initiative, was designed to support projects examining the impact of lifestyle and the microbiome on the maintenance of optimal brain health, and specifically the prevention or delay of neurodegenerative diseases of aging, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Applications for the program were reviewed by a panel of international experts and four projects were selected to receive funding:

  • Dr. Alex Parker (Université de Montréal) – $1.6M
    • Project description: Conducting a clinical study to assess the benefit of a probiotic in treating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia.
  • Dr. Manuel Montero Odasso (St. Joseph’s Health Care London/Lawson Research Institute) – $1.5M
    • Project description: Testing whether an at-home, personalized intervention targeting specific lifestyle risk factors for dementia can improve brain health in older adults suffering from mild cognitive impairment.
  • Dr. Simon Bacon (Concordia University) – $1.5M
    • Project description: Examining bariatric surgery patients and how dramatic changes in diet can influence brain structure and function, towards identifying patterns that can improve cognitive health as well as those associated with risk of cognitive decline.
  • Dr. Thien Thanh Dang Vu (Concordia University) – $1.5M
    • Project description: Testing whether an online cognitive-behavioural intervention program can improve the sleep quality and ultimately the cognitive performance of patients with cognitive complaints who are suffering from insomnia.

In addition to the above grants, an additional $1.8 million was awarded to six grantees through the Weston Family Microbiome Initiative Proof-of-Principle program. The awarded projects seek to leverage the microbiome to improve diverse aspects of brain health, including combatting Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis, improving mental health, and supporting cognitive development in early-life.

These grants follow on the footsteps of $12 million in Foundation funding to the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) for a new brain-health initiative announced in November 2021.

The Healthy Brains, Healthy Aging Initiative will augment the CLSA platform, and marks the first time a national study of aging in Canada has introduced both brain imaging and microbiome analyses to investigate cognitive aging in the population over time. Read more about the Healthy Brains, Healthy Aging Initiative here.

$12M awarded to give researchers new tools to advance healthy aging science

The Weston Family Foundation is pleased to announce $12 million in funding to the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA), hosted at McMaster University, for a new initiative that will shed light on the many factors that influence brain health as we age, including lifestyle and the human microbiome.  

The Healthy Brains, Healthy Aging Initiative will feature a cohort of 6,000 research participants who are currently enrolled in the CLSA. It marks the first time a national study of aging in Canada has introduced both brain imaging and microbiome analyses to investigate cognitive aging in the population over time.

The goal of the six-year initiative is to enhance the CLSA platform with longitudinal data from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain and microbiome analyses of the gut, to help researchers examine how diverse lifestyle, medical, psychosocial, economic, and environmental factors as well as changes in the microbiome correlate with healthy aging outcomes.

The Weston Family Foundation mission

As part of its overall giving strategy, the Weston Family Foundation dedicates funding to catalyze and scale science-based approaches to improve the health and well-being of Canadians as they age. Specifically, the Foundation aims for more Canadians maintaining optimal health with aging; decreased economic burden of diseases of aging in Canada; and more Canadians equipped with knowledge and strategies to maintain optimal health and independence.

Potential breakthroughs as a result of data gathered by the Healthy Brains, Healthy Aging Initiative will not only improve the health of Canadians as they age, but will generate research evidence to inform policy and programs that increase the agency of Canadians on their own health outcomes.

Click here for more info.

Press release: Announcing the Healthy Brains, Healthy Aging Initiative

Nearly $10 million in grants awarded to neuroscience researchers across Canada

The Weston Family Foundation, through its Weston Brain Institute, is awarding $9.8 million in funding to researchers through the Rapid Response, Transformational Research, Early Phase Clinical Trials, and Follow-on Funding programs.

These researchers are pursuing novel, high-risk, high-reward translational research in neurodegenerative diseases of aging at research institutions across Canada. The grants cover a wide range of research projects from prevention, to detection, to treatment.

Neurodegenerative diseases of aging are among the least understood and most undertreated diseases today, making them one of the greatest healthcare challenges of the 21st century. Worldwide, over 50 million people are believed to be living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. By 2050, rates could exceed 120 million. 

With this new funding, the Foundation has now awarded more than $95 million through the Weston Brain Institute toward the goal of catalyzing and scaling science-based approaches to significantly improve the health and well-being of Canadians as they age.

About the Grants

The Rapid Response Program (up to $300,000) provides seed funding for novel, high-risk, high-reward, translational research that will accelerate the development of therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases of aging.

The Transformational Research Program (up to $1.5 million) supports transformative, high-risk, high-reward translational research projects on neurodegenerative diseases of aging.

The Follow-on Funding Program (up to $1.5 million) kick-starts the scaling of innovations, technologies and/or lifestyle approaches identified and validated in one of WBI’s proof-of-concept grant programs.

The Early Phase Clinical Trials Program (up to $1.5 million) provides funding support for clinical trials and clinical trial sub-studies with excellent preliminary data.

With this latest round of grants, 14 principal applicants and 89 team members—including international co-applicants and collaborators in Canada, the United States, Sweden and England—are being supported.

  • Program: Early Phase Clinical Trials
    • Dr. Sandra Black (Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre) – $1.5M
      • Project description: Assessing the potential of the drug levetiracetam in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in a phase IIa clinical trial.
    • Dr. Nir Lipsman (Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre) – $1.5M
      • Project description: A clinical trial examining the use of MR-guided focused ultrasound as a non-invasive and safer approach to increasing concentrations of an enzyme (glucocerebrosidase) in the brain to treat difficulties with movement and balance in Parkinson’s disease.
  • Program: Follow-On Funding
    • Dr. Evgueni Ivakine (The Hospital for Sick Children) – $1.2M
      • Project description: Developing a CRISPR-based approach to increase the levels of progranulin protein as a potential treatment for frontotemporal dementia.
  • Program: Rapid Response
    • Dr. Jean-Pierre Julien (Université Laval) – $0.3M
      • Project description: Testing the therapeutic efficacy of an antibody targeting protein aggregates that contributes to neuronal death in Alzheimer’s Disease and Fronto-Temporal Dementia.
    • Dr. Jonathan Kofman (University of Waterloo) – $0.3M
      • Project description: Testing whether a wearable device could predict and prevent freezing of gait episodes in people with Parkinson’s disease.
    • Dr. Matthew Macauley (University of Alberta) – $0.3M
      • Project description: Validating the effects of a gene therapy that modulates the function of brain cells in Alzheimer’s disease.
    • Dr. Diana Matheoud (Université de Montréal) – $0.3M
      • Project description: Developing new biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease based on immune responses differences.
    • Dr. Pedro Rosa Neto (Douglas Hospital Research Centre) – $0.3M
      • Project description: Validating the use of a blood-based biomarker (phospho-tau) as a faster, accessible and cost-effective way to diagnose and monitor progression of Alzheimer’s disease as well as select the correct Alzheimer’s disease patients for clinical trials.
  • Program: Transformational Research
    • Dr. Vladimir Hachinski (University of Western Ontario) – $1.4M
      • Project description: Developing a cost-effective model of dementia prevention by integrating population, environment, sociodemographic and patient data from across Canada to reduce the incidence of dementia at a population level.
    • Dr. Yasser Iturria Medina (Montreal Neurological Institute) – $0.4M
      • Project description: Developing a diagnostic tool using an artificial intelligence framework to integrate molecular and neuroimaging data into an accessible and personalized profile of disease subtype and progression in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
    • Dr. Andres Lozano (Toronto Western Hospital) – $1.5M
      • Project description: Testing Low-Intensity Focused Ultrasound Stimulation (LIFUS) as a potential non-invasive treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
    • Dr. Tiago Mestre (Ottawa Hospital Research Institute) – $0.7M
      • Project description: Establishing a deeply phenotyped cohort in Canada as part of the Parkinson Progression Marker Initiative (PPMI) to accelerate biomarker and therapeutic development for Parkinson’s disease.
    • Dr. Christopher Pearson (The Hospital for Sick Children) – $1.5M
      • Project description: Testing the efficacy of a small molecule targeting DNA repeat structures, a predominant cause of Fronto-Temporal Dementia, to slow or reverse progression of this disease.
    • Dr. Cheryl Wellington (University of British Columbia) – $1.5M
      • Project description: Identifying the acute and long-term effects of COVID-19 on neurological and cognitive outcomes in neurodegenerative diseases using behavioural, blood biomarker and neuroimaging data from a large cohort of COVID-19 patients.

*Update: Following the original announcement, additional grants were contracted, bringing the total amount awarded to approximately $12.6M. All successful grantees are listed in the list above.

Brain Health

In November 2020 the Foundation launched Brain Health 2021: Lifestyle Approaches and Microbiome Contributions, seeking to increase the number of Canadians maintaining better brain health throughout their lives.

In this $7M pilot round, funding of up to $1.5M over three years will be available to Canadian researchers who propose projects that look for new ways to maintain or improve the brain health of Canadians. Projects should aim to evaluate the link between brain health and lifestyle approaches, the contributions of the microbiome to brain health, or both.

To read more about Brain Health 2021 program, go to our Grant Calls page.

Read the press release here: New $7M Brain Health Program Now Accepting Letters of Intent from Researchers