Could improving the mechanisms of toxic protein disposal in motor neurons become a future treatment strategy?

Award: $125,000 

Collaborators: Dr. Martin Duennwald, Western University, and Dr. Elizabeth Meiering, University of Waterloo

Dr. Gary Shaw is a biochemist at Western University and one of nine ALS Canada-Brain Canada Discovery Grant recipients for 2022.  

“It’s always really exciting when you get a research grant, because you’re using your ideas that you’ve researched in the literature and created new experiments around,” he says. “After all that, it’s exciting to have other scientists review it and appreciate your ideas.” 

This project represents his first grant for ALS research, but it builds on his decades of work studying the proteins involved in neurodegeneration, particularly in Parkinson’s disease.  

“It’s a bit of a new direction for my lab, but it seems like a logical progression” says Dr. Shaw. 

At Brain Canada, we adopt the One Brain approach to research, knowing that every discovery has the potential to have an impact across a spectrum of brain diseases and disorders. Dr. Shaw’s work in both Parkinson’s disease and now ALS will improve our understanding of the complexity of the brain as a whole.” 

Dr. Viviane Poupon, President and CEO of Brain Canada

Tagging proteins to “take out the trash” 

When our cells age, our body has a mechanism to “tag” unwanted or problematic proteins so they can be removed. Unfortunately, the enzyme machinery for this process often does not work properly in ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases.  

Dr. Shaw’s project seeks to identify which proteins might be responsible for tagging the unwanted or misfolded proteins for removal from cells in common types of ALS.  

“And if what we can do is identify proteins that we think are regulating these processes,” he explains, “those enzymes could be potential targets for small molecule therapeutics.” 

His transition from other neurodegenerative diseases to ALS research is aided by his collaborators, including long-time ALS researchers Dr. Martin Duennwald, also at Western University, and Dr. Elizabeth Meiering at the University of Waterloo. 

Though Dr. Shaw studies the most intricate of biochemical processes, he says he is inspired by the possibility that his research could make a difference for people living with ALS.  
“I’ve always wanted to do research that is going to make a tangible difference, that has the potential to better people’s lives and health,” he says.  

“In the long run, we are attempting to identify the root cause of diseases like ALS. These types of experiments are really important in doing that,” he adds. “This project does have the potential, I think, to impact people’s lives.” 

The ALS Canada-Brain Canada Discovery Grant Program has been made possible by the Canada Brain Research Fund (CBRF), an innovative arrangement between the Government of Canada (through Health Canada), Brain Canada Foundation and ALS Canada 

To find out more about the 2022 ALS Canada-Brain Canada Discovery Grants, read the full press release here.