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

Weston Family Focused Ultrasound Initiative at Sunnybrook

In March 2020, our Foundation made a landmark $16.7-million philanthropic grant to establish the Weston Family Focused Ultrasound Initiative at Sunnybrook.

With this grant, the Foundation spearheaded a $33-million initiative to develop and bring novel focused ultrasound technology to Canadians. The Weston Family Focused Ultrasound Initiative will accelerate development of a powerful new focused ultrasound device to enable the personalized treatment of brain disorders as never before. This initiative will culminate in the launch of three world-first clinical trials and bring this breakthrough technology to more patients faster.

For more information, please refer to the links below:

Press Release

Sunnybrook Foundation: Weston Family Focused Ultrasound Initiative

Megan McCafferty

Megan McCafferty joined the Weston Family Foundation in September of 2019. She is a member of the Operations team and oversees the Foundation’s team of Grants Coordinators, while supporting the grants process for several programs, including assistance with budgeting and financial reporting.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Megan worked as an Administrative Assistant at KPMG LLP and as a Programme Administrative Officer with The Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Megan holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Development Studies from the University of Waterloo and a Diploma in General Social Work Studies from Renison University College.

Teenu Sanjeevan, PhD

Teenu Sanjeevan joined the Weston Family Foundation as Research Program Specialist in 2020, before transitioning to her current role in 2021. She is responsible for managing the Foundation’s neuroscience programs.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Teenu was a Research Associate, and previously a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, at the Autism Research Centre of Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

Teenu has a Bachelor of Science degree in Life Sciences and a Master of Science in Cognitive Science of Language from McMaster University, and a PhD in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Toronto.

Rene Prashad, PhD

Rene Prashad joined the Weston Family Foundation as Research Programs Specialist at the Weston Brain Institute in 2014, before transitioning to his current role as Senior Program Manager in 2021. He is responsible for the Foundation’s neuroscience scaling initiatives, including the Weston Family Focused Ultrasound Initiative at Sunnybrook.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Rene worked in various industries such as life science, finance and retail.

Rene has an Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Neuroscience, a Master of Science in Neurophysiology, and a PhD in Neurophysiology from the University of Toronto.

Cristina Tang, PhD

Cristina Tang joined the Weston Family Foundation as a Research Programs Specialist in 2015, before transitioning to her current role in 2021. She is responsible for the administration of the Weston Brain Institute programs.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Cristina was Program Lead of Industry Relations at the Ontario Brain Institute, and before that, she worked for two years at various biotech and pharma companies.

Cristina has a Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from Simon Fraser University, and a PhD in Molecular Genetics from the University of Toronto.