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.
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.
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.