ALS Society of Canada dedicates last of the matched Ice Bucket Challenge research funding to early-career researchers in pursuit of a future without ALS

2018 funding competition with Brain Canada results in $720,000 for six trainee awards – more trainee awards in a single year than ever before

TORONTO, December 13, 2018 – The ALS Society of Canada (ALS Canada), together with Brain Canada, today announced $720,000 in funding for six new trainee awards, thus completing the last of the $20 million research partnership with the Brain Canada Foundation (with financial support from the Government of Canada) following the Ice Bucket Challenge. ALS Canada is also pleased to partner with La Fondation Vincent Bourque who will be providing financial support for one of these awards. Each grant has been awarded with the aim of sustaining high-quality Canadian ALS research by providing salary support for the next generation of ALS researchers currently pursuing PhDs or postdoctoral research positions.

At a given time, approximately 3,000 Canadians are living with ALS, a terminal disease that gradually paralyzes people because the brain is no longer able to communicate with the muscles of the body that we are typically able to move at will. As the connection with the brain and muscles breaks down, someone living with ALS will lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, swallow, and eventually breathe. Each year approximately 1,000 Canadians die from ALS. With no cure and few treatment options available that have a significant impact on the progression of the disease, 80 per cent of people with ALS die within two to five years of diagnosis.

“This was a tremendous opportunity to collaborate with Brain Canada and La Fondation Vincent Bourque to support more trainees in a given year than ever before,” said Dr. David Taylor, VP Research, ALS Society of Canada. “For more than a decade the ALS Society of Canada has funded exceptional students and postdoctoral candidates with the goals of advancing key Canadian ALS research and creating the next generation of dedicated ALS researchers in the country. It’s a program that has impact today and for many years to come.”

 “Since 2015, Brain Canada’s much-valued partnership with the ALS Canada Research Program has resulted in a $20-million investment in ALS research. The funded projects will lead to new discoveries in the development of effective treatments for this devastating disease, and enable the next generation of ALS researchers to start or continue research in promising areas of investigation,” said Inez Jabalpurwala, President and CEO, Brain Canada Foundation. “In addition, the discoveries that will result from this partnership have the potential to inform how we approach other neurodegenerative diseases with similar underlying mechanisms, such as MS, and Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases.” 

“An ALS diagnosis has significant impact on all areas of life – physical, emotional and financial – but the progress of research in recent years has brought hope to those living with ALS that life-changing treatments could be possible,” shared Vincent Bourque, the founder of La Fondation Vincent Bourque, shortly before his passing in November 2018. Mr. Bourque was diagnosed with ALS in 2015 at the age of 40. “Future advancements in research are only limited by the amount of funding available, which is why we are proud to be helping to build the capacity for future ALS research discovery by supporting an early-career researcher.”

This year’s six trainee award recipients seek to answer the following questions about how ALS occurs and how it could be treated:

  • Can advanced imaging techniques effectively pinpoint validated biomarkers in ALS and track disease progression? $75,000 has been awarded to Abdullah Ishaque, a MD/PhD student from Dr. Sanjay Kalra’s lab at the University of Alberta. Abdullah’s research involves analysing images obtained from the Canadian ALS Neuroimaging Consortium (CALSNIC), a project that was funded through the single largest grant given by ALS Canada and the Brain Canada Foundation following the Ice Bucket Challenge.
  • Can restoring motor neuron inhibition prevent or stop ALS progression? In partnership with La Fondation Vincent Bourque, $165,000 has been awarded to Dr. Sahara Khademullah, a postdoctoral fellow from Dr. Yves De Koninck’s lab at Université This research builds on two projects previously funded by ALS Canada that explore whether targeting the activity of upper motor neurons in the brain could be a new and unexplored way to treat ALS.
  • Is a loss of C9orf72, responsible for the most common protein abnormality in ALS?
    $75,000 has been awarded to Lilian Lin, a PhD student in Dr. Janice Robertson’s lab at the University of Toronto.
  • Does a specific type of viral infection play a role in triggering ALS and its progression?
    $75,000 has been awarded to Yasir Mohamud, a PhD student in Dr. Honglin Luo’s lab at the University of British Columbia.
  • Can using worm and stem cell models of ALS to screen for new ALS drugs identify something that slows disease progression? $165,000 has been awarded to Prateep Pakavathkumar, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Alex Parker’s lab at Université de Montréal.
  • Can antibodies detect a key misfolded protein associated with ALS in cerebral spinal fluid? $165,000 has been awarded to Yulong Sun, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Avi Chakrabartty’s lab at the University of Toronto.

The granting of these trainee awards follows a competitive peer review process, which engaged a panel of Canadian ALS experts in evaluating applications to identify the most exceptional young researchers whose projects have great potential to advance the field of ALS research. All aspects of the peer review process were executed in full partnership with Brain Canada, whose funds are provided through the Canada Brain Research Fund (with financial support from Health Canada).

With Brain Canada’s commitment of matched funds now complete, the ALS Canada Research Program will now return to its historic funding levels with $1.5 million to $2 million in research grants awarded each year.

About the ALS Canada Research Program and Canada’s ALS Societies
The ALS Canada Research Program funds peer-reviewed research grants and fosters collaboration amongst Canadian researchers, helping to nurture new ideas and build capacity. ALS Societies across Canada fundraise on a regional basis to provide services and support to people and families living with ALS in their province and contribute to the funding of the ALS Canada Research Program. ALS Societies advocate federally, provincially and locally on behalf of people and families living with ALS for better government support and access within the healthcare system.

About Brain Canada and the Canada Brain Research Fund
Brain Canada is a national registered charity that enables and supports excellent, innovative, paradigm-changing brain research in Canada. Since 1998, Brain Canada has made the case for the brain as a single, complex system with commonalities across the range of neurological disorders, mental illnesses and addictions, brain and spinal cord injuries. Looking at the brain as one system has underscored the need for increased collaboration across disciplines and institutions, and a smarter way to invest in brain research that is focused on outcomes that will benefit patients and families. Brain Canada’s vision is to understand the brain, in health and illness, to improve lives and achieve societal impact.

The Canada Brain Research Fund is a public-private partnership between the Government of Canada and Brain Canada, designed to encourage Canadians to increase their support of brain research, and maximize the impact and efficiency of those investments. Brain Canada has committed $115 million from private donors and non-federal partners—now numbering more than 100—which Health Canada has matched with $120 million. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.