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Healthy Aging

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

July 21, 2021

Brain disease diagnosis with medical doctor seeing Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) film diagnosing elderly ageing patient neurodegenerative illness problem for neurological medical treatment

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.