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Latest Platform Support Grant to make advanced brain models accessible to Canada’s neuroscience research community

CBRF News, News March 15, 2021

Brain Canada is pleased to announce the awarding of a 2019 Platform Support Grant (PSG) to Dr. Liliana Attisano from the University of Toronto, and team members Jeff Wrana and Laurence Pelletier at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute. Together with the Krembil Foundation, Brain Canada is awarding $1,425,000 to support the Applied Organoid Core (ApOC), an organoid production platform for modelling human brain development and disorders.

Brain Canada’s Platform Support Grants are awarded to teams that are creating and/or enhancing centralized shared resources to increase access to equipment, expertise, data and protocols across research networks. Brain Canada will announce six additional Platform Support Grants in the coming weeks, as part of a more than $25 million investment in brain research.

The ApOC platform will develop sophisticated models of the brain to monitor brain development and drug responses in far greater detail than ever before. By linking brain tissue derived from human stem cells to living blood vessels, these artificial “mini-brains” mimic brain physiology in terms of morphology and function, providing researchers with effective pre-clinical models to study neurological diseases, and serving as a powerful tool for drug screening and development. The platform will help lead to improvements in the preclinical drug testing process in Canada and potentially accelerate drug discovery worldwide.   

“Greater access to these novel and sophisticated platforms are very exciting for the future of neuroscience,” says Brain Canada President and CEO, Dr. Viviane Poupon, “They represent a growing opportunity to improve the way we study complex neurological diseases and better predict the impact of different treatments.” 

Platforms that enable researchers to better understand the distinct features of the human brain foster innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration. They are a vital component in supporting the work of numerous investigators across all fields of neuroscience. To facilitate uptake of the technology by users and the broader brain research community, the ApOC will also establish a Knowledge Centre that will focus on training and knowledge dissemination.

“There’s a lot of interest now in making cerebral organoids for any sort of brain disorders. There are so many people who want to use it for Alzheimer’s, ALS, bipolar disorders, the list goes on, but developing the technology in a lab to do it can be quite time-consuming,” explains Dr. Attisano, Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto. “The idea is to expand to have a centre where people can get information and participate in workshops to learn hands-on how to make the cerebral organoids, or to obtain those produced by the core for pilot experiments.”  

“The future of medical advancement is organoids,” says Mark Krembil, President and CEO of the Krembil Foundation. “Dr. Attisano’s Organoid Core will allow researchers the opportunity to study the mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases on more accurate models than ever before. We hope that our support of Dr. Attisano’s “mini-brains” will help bridge the gaps of knowledge and lead researchers to breakthroughs in understanding neurodegeneration."

Funding for this PSG has been made possible with the financial support of Health Canada, through the Canada Brain Research Fund, an innovative partnership between the Government of Canada (through Health Canada) and Brain Canada, and the Krembil Foundation.

Learn more about this project in Brain Canada’s directory of funded researchers.