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$1.125 million investment to advance understanding, diagnosis and treatment of ALS

News February 10, 2022
Helen Fong at The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) in 2021. Ms. Fong is a member of Brain Canada funded researcher Dr. Angela Genge’s team at The Neuro, where Dr. Genge serves as Director of the ALS Clinic and the Clinical Research Unit.

In partnership with Brain Canada Foundation, ALS Canada Research Program awards nine Discovery Grants

With promising new therapies for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) on the horizon, now is the time for ongoing investment in research discovery that will continue to fuel the development of treatments. That is why, together with Brain Canada, the ALS Canada Research Program is proud to announce nine new Discovery Grants, which were awarded in late 2021. These leading-edge research projects, led by teams across Canada, have a critical role to play in contributing to global scientific discovery in ALS and improving the lives of people living with ALS and their families.

The projects funded include fundamental laboratory research to identify new biological targets for ALS therapies; clinical research to identify biomarkers that could help to improve clinical research and care, and a clinical trial to test a new means of delivering ALS therapies.

“What’s exciting about these nine research initiatives is that they include foundational lab research, clinic-based research and even a clinical trial – demonstrating our continually evolving knowledge in ALS,” said Dr. David Taylor, VP Research for the ALS Society of Canada. “Fundamental research is still very much necessary to better understand how and why ALS develops in the body, but because of the state of the research field today there are also increased opportunities to support biomarker studies and clinical trials – and Canada’s ALS research community has an important contribution to make to these areas.”

The nine Discovery Grants bring together multidisciplinary teams of research experts to investigate critical areas of disease processes and clinical care. They were selected following a rigorous peer-reviewed grant competition that engaged an international panel of experts to select the best work, grounded in scientific excellence and with the potential to quickly advance the field of ALS research.

“Through my personal connection to ALS I know that effective new therapies can’t come soon enough – which means that high-quality research is essential as the foundation on which therapies are built,” said Cali Orsulak, a member of ALS Canada’s Scientific and Medical Advisory Council who is also a personal caregiver to a family member living with the disease. “Having had the opportunity to observe the peer review panel that evaluated the research initiatives to ensure the quality of the science and the potential for impact, I’m excited by the promise that these research initiatives represent.”

“Collaboration and innovation are important principles for Brain Canada, and these nine Discovery Grants bring together strong Canadian research expertise to move the field forward,” said Brain Canada President and CEO, Dr. Viviane Poupon. “Our partnership with ALS Canada doubles the investment in high-quality Canadian ALS research that will lead to new approaches, new thinking, and transferable insights that will benefit other neurodegenerative diseases with similar underlying mechanisms.”

Summary of 2021 Discovery Grants

Clinical trials

  • Can image-guided focused ultrasound technology aid in the delivery of promising new ALS therapies? $125,000 awarded to Dr. Agessandro Abrahao, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, in collaboration with Drs. Lorne Zinman, Isabelle Aubert and Sonam Dubey, Sunnybrook Research Institute and Nir Lipsman, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre; Drs. Kullervo Hynynen, Simon Graham, and Jamie Near, Sunnybrook Research Institute; Drs. Sanjay Kalra and Kelvin Jones, University of Alberta.

Biomarker research

  • Can novel biomarkers help researchers to evaluate the effectiveness of promising new ALS therapies? $125,000 awarded to Dr. Gerhard Multhaup, McGill University, in collaboration with Dr. Angela Genge, The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute – Hospital) at McGill University
  • Can a new biomarker in the eye help to advance ALS research and care? $125,000 awarded to Dr. Yeni Yucel, in collaboration with Dr. Neeru Gupta, Unity Health Toronto
  • Can a cutting-edge imaging technique identify a link between a signalling pathway in the brain and ALS? $125,000 awarded to Dr. Freimut Juengling, in collaboration with Dr. Sanjay Kalra and Dr. Ralf Schirrmacher, University of Alberta

Laboratory research

  • Does hypermetabolism contribute to ALS disease processes? $125,000 awarded to Dr. Jeehye Park, in collaboration with Dr. Hoon-Ki Sung, The Hospital for Sick Children
  • How could the loss of the normal function of C9orf72 contribute to ALS? $125,000 awarded to Dr. Janice Robertson, Tanz Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases, University of Toronto, in collaboration with Dr. Liang Zhang, University Health Network
  • Can small tags on TDP-43 influence its abnormal behaviour in ALS? $125,000 awarded to Dr. Maxime Rousseaux, University of Ottawa, in collaboration with Dr. Martin Duennwald, Western University
  • Does a newly discovered protein variant play an important role in ALS? $125,000 awarded to Dr. Christine Vande Velde, Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CRCHUM), in collaboration with Dr. Marlene Oeffinger, Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM)
  • Can undiscovered protein interactions influence FUS dysfunction in ALS? $125,000 awarded to Dr. Ji-Young Youn, The Hospital for Sick Children, in collaboration with Dr. Hyun Kate Lee, University of Toronto

The Discovery Grant competition is funded through matched funds contributed by the Canada Brain Research Fund, an innovative arrangement between the Government of Canada (through Health Canada) and Brain Canada, and by the ALS Canada Research Program, which is supported by ALS Canada donors including community-based fundraising events, individual and corporate donors, and provincial ALS Societies who contribute 40% of net proceeds from the Walk to End ALS. The Discovery Grant funding is part of ALS Canada’s 2021 research commitment, with additional 2021 initiatives to be announced in the coming months.