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$2.7 million awarded to outstanding projects in microbiome research that are improving human health

April 26, 2024

Weston Family Foundation grants funding to Proof-of-Principle 2023 projects

Breaking down diet: The microbiome and precision nutrition

The Weston Family Foundation, through its Weston Family Microbiome Initiative, is pleased to announce the grant recipients of the 2023 Proof-of-Principle program (POP 2023), which aims to understand how the microbiome influences the impact of diet on human health. This program was developed to provide funding to support innovative projects that:

  • Advance the application of the microbiome in improving human health
  • Foster greater collaboration within the Canadian research community
  • Position Canada as a global leader in the field of microbiome research

The POP 2023 program provided research grants of up to $300,000 over a maximum of 30 months to support the following high-impact projects that seek to leverage the microbiome to maximize the health benefits of precision nutrition. The Foundation specifically chose grantees whose work leveraged the microbiome to maximize the benefits of nutrition in people and/or evaluated microbiome heterogeneity and how it impacts nutrient metabolism in humans.

“A wealth of research has demonstrated that the microbiome can profoundly influence how we process and metabolize food. In this way, our resident microbes play an important role in determining the influence of diet on health. However, the microbiome is now understood to be highly personalized, with our genetics, history, diet and lifestyle shaping its unique function. The Foundation is thrilled to be supporting world-leading research that is poised to both expand our understanding of this personalization and to leverage the microbiome maximize the health benefits of precision nutrition.”

Meet the POP 2023 Grantees

Dr. Herb Gaisano, MD

Professor of Medicine and Physiology at the University of Toronto, Canada Research Chair in Diseases of Endocrine and Exocrine Pancreas

Project title: Role of intestinal microbiome (IM) metabolites in increasing disease burden vs resolution of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

Weight loss (bariatric) surgery, shown to also improve metabolic dysfunction-associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD), is known to induce major changes in the intestinal microbiome which result in changes in the intestinal metabolites that can have profound effects. We have identified the metabolite profile before and after bariatric surgery, that may have deleterious versus beneficial effects, respectively, on MAFLD which we here will reveal the mechanistic actions on MAFLD liver samples obtained from these obese patients.

Dr. Jean-Philippe Drouin-Chartier, PhD

Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Pharmacy at the Université Laval

Project title: Impact of the gut microbiome on the cardioprotective potential of diet in heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia

The overarching objective of this project is to demonstrate how the gut microbiome influences the cardioprotective effects of diet in individuals with genetically defined heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (HeFH). In an era of precision nutrition, results from this study will fill key knowledge gaps on the influence of the gut microbiome on the cardioprotective potential of diet in HeFH. This project will also pave the path towards future investigations aiming to demonstrate how modulating the gut microbiota with diet may increase efficacy of lipid-lowering medication in HeFH.

Dr. Alain Stintzi, PhD

Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa

Project title: Prebiotic precision intervention to enhance anti-TNFα efficacy in pediatric Crohn’s disease

The primary goal of this project is to demonstrate the effectiveness of precision prebiotic therapy in manipulating the composition and functionality of the gut microbiota in pediatric Crohn’s disease patients. This project will also assess the effectiveness of this approach in improving the therapeutic management of Crohn’s disease by reducing the need to intensify medication treatment.

Dr. Maitreyi Raman, MD

Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Calgary

Dr. Natasha Haskey, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow in the Irving K Barber Faculty of Science at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan and affiliated with Department of Biology & University of Calgary, Cumming School of Medicine, Alberta’s Collaboration of Excellence for Nutrition in Digestive Diseases (Ascend).

Project title: Predicting microbiome-associated personalized responses to the Mediterranean diet (MAP-Med)

This study aims to deepen our understanding of how the Mediterranean Diet impacts health through its relationship with the gut microbiome. We seek to uncover why some individuals respond well to this diet while others do not and identify biomarkers that can predict who will benefit most. This knowledge is crucial for developing personalized dietary strategies to enhance disease prevention and management.

Dr. Frédéric Raymond, PhD

EN: Associate Professor in the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences Centre and NUTRISS Institute of Nutrition and Functional Foods at the Université Laval

FR: Professeur agrégé, École de nutrition, Faculté des sciences de l’agriculture et de l’alimentation Centre NUTRISS Institut sur la nutrition et les aliments fonctionnels

Project title: Machine learning modeling of diet, microbiome and host interactions to formulate nutritional interventions

This project aims to design nutritional interventions that improve intestinal properties associated with metabolic disorders through the modulation of microbiome metabolite production. We will employ machine learning methods along with microbial cultures and intestinal organoids to design optimal nutritional strategies for enhancing intestinal functions.

Dr. Stephen Lye, PhD

Senior Investigator at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Sinai Health

Project title: Microbiome, metabolites, and maternal-offspring health: Charting the pathways to optimal growth and development

Worldwide, maternal overweight/obesity is a leading cause of adverse pregnancy outcomes and long-term poor metabolic health for the woman after delivery. Further, it is a leading cause of poor offspring growth and lifelong obesity risk, setting a transgenerational trajectory for poor health. Our study will explore the links between nutrition (from preconception through pregnancy), the maternal microbiome and pregnancy/birth outcomes, as well as test whether interventions to improve nutrition impact this relationship.

Dr. Bastien Castagner, PhD

Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics at McGill University and Canada Research Chair in Therapeutic Chemistry

Project title: Personalized metabolism of fiber-based prebiotics to enhance cancer immunotherapy

Our team at the McGill Centre for Microbiome Research aims to identify metabolic signatures that will predict if a dietary fiber will be beneficial in an individual and if not, which fiber might be beneficial. These results will be used to improve cancer immunotherapy treatment by manipulating the gut microbiome of patients using personalized dietary fibres.

Dr. Eytan Wine, MD, PhD

Professor of Pediatrics and Physiology at the University of Alberta

Project title: Clinical profiling of anti-inflammatory fibre supplements in patients with ulcerative colitis: Towards personalized complementary strategies

Nutrition seems to have a critical role in the development and treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) but many barriers remain in translating this knowledge into action for patients. In this study we will test the ability of specific beneficial fibres to reduce inflammation in IBD patients and define mechanisms of action, with a goal of identifying which patient will respond best to which nutritional intervention.

Dr. John Parkinson, PhD

Senior Scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children

Project title: Precision nutrition approaches for targeting mental health in IBD

Adolescents with inflammatory bowel disease are at elevated risk of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Here we will study the contribution of the gut microbiome to these disorders and predict putative dietary interventions aimed at improving a patient’s mental health.

Learn more about the Proof-of-Principle program

New funding opportunity – Proof of Principle 2024: The Microbiome and biomarkers of disease and therapeutic response.