The ALS Canada Research Program is led by Dr. David Taylor, Vice-President, Research at ALS Canada.
Q: What is ALS Canada’s role in ALS Research?
A: ALS Canada is the sole national non-profit organization providing funds for ALS researchers across Canada. As part of our charitable purpose, our vision is to make ALS a treatable, not terminal disease by 2024. To fulfill this vision ALS Canada administers and funds a National ALS Research Program.
Q: Does ALS Canada conduct research?
A: ALS Canada does not conduct research. ALS Canada has a strong relationship with the world-class community of ALS researchers in Canada and works with them to develop crucial research grant opportunities that will have an impact on making ALS a treatable disease. Essentially, ALS Canada stewards donor dollars toward the best research in Canada with our vision in mind.
Q: How does the ALS Canada research program work?
A: The ALS Canada Research Program is based on a grant model where each grant serves different purposes. Please find a description of our grant program below describing what each grant is used for:
ALS Canada-Brain Canada Arthur J. Hudson Translational Team Grant: in 2015, a pool of $10 million is available to fund the top teams of ALS researchers from at least two different Canadian universities, with an emphasis on translational research that pushes discovery of potential treatments out of the laboratory and into the clinic for testing. This is our flagship mechanisms to drive towards our vision, encouraging the top ALS researchers in Canada to work together to drive toward our vision.
Bridge Grants: $100,000 grants for one year to sustain momentum on top peer reviewed ALS research that didn’t achieve full government funding. Government grants for multiple years of funding (through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research or CIHR) are only awarded to the top ~18% of all health research projects in Canada. It also keeps top scientists focused on ALS research rather than seeking out funding to work on other diseases.
ALS Canada-Brain Canada Discovery Grants: $100,000 grants for 1-2 years to nurture a foundation of research for the top novel, “outside-the-box” projects designed towards understanding ALS, diagnosing the disease earlier or developing treatments. These novel ideas often have difficulty securing funding from other agencies and don’t get a chance to be pursued otherwise.
Clinical Research Fellowship: $100,000 per year for 2 years to train a young neurologist to specialize in ALS research and care. This is designed to help build stronger capacity across Canada for running clinical trials, which bring the best new experimental therapeutics to Canadians, and providing the specialized care of an ALS focused neurologist. It has also helped to bring specialized ALS care to underserviced regions of Canada.
Postdoctoral Fellowship: $55,000 per year for 3 years to support a postdoctoral researcher doing a top peer reviewed project on ALS. Trainee awards are designed to bring brilliant young minds into the ALS field.
Doctoral Research Awards: $25,000 per year for 3 years to support a PhD student doing a top peer reviewed project on ALS.
ALS Canada-Brain Canada Career Transition Award: a new award for 2015 that provides funding support for a promising young superstar researcher who is either at the senior postdoc level, looking to achieve an assistant professorship position, or a new independent investigator hoping to bolster their career when competiting for grants is difficult. This is an investment in the future leaders of the Canadian ALS research community.
ALS Canada Research Forum: a non-grant piece of the Research Program that brings the entire Canadian ALS research community together annually for sharing of ideas and forming new collaborations. This event has been widely cited as a major contributor to the uniquely cooperative nature of the Canadian group, which has helped nurture the strong contribution of Canada to the global effort of ALS research.
Q: How does ALS Canada decide what research to fund?
A: The ALS Canada Research Program is based on peer review. This means, that the applications we receive from Canadian ALS researchers for funding are evaluated and ranked by other researchers based on their likelihood to move the ALS research forward in line with our vision of making ALS a treatable, not terminal disease. In 2014, for the first time, ALS Canada has enlisted an International Peer Review Panel consisting of world-class ALS researchers (from USA and Europe) who will evaluate and rank applicants to ensure donated funds will support the best ALS research possible.
Q: Does the research ALS Canada fund, use human embryonic stem cells in their research?
A: We do not currently fund any ALS research that use human embryonic stem cells, nor have we ever funded any research involving human embryonic stem cells. Many non-embryonic stem cell options exist to do studies in 2015.
Q: Is it true that ALS research has not made much progress?
A: In fact, ALS research is at a time of unprecedented excitement and momentum. Many of the top researchers in the world believe we are now positioned to find treatments that can significantly alter the course of the disease in the foreseeable future. In 1993, ALS research had a major breakthrough by discovering a gene in the lab that can cause the disease in a small number of cases (9 out of 10 cases are not passed on within families). This gene allowed us to study the disease in a new way in the laboratory, but it represented just one piece of a very complex puzzle. Researchers worked hard and learned a lot over the next decade until technology allowed for discovery of a second major puzzle piece in 2006. Since then, we have discovered nearly all of the important puzzle pieces and perhaps the most prominent in late 2011. In essence, ALS research has come further in the past 5-7 years than in the previous century. Combined with a constantly increasing technological capability, researchers are working in the laboratory to put the pieces of the puzzle together to understand ALS and develop new treatments. There are more ideas and important projects to be accomplished than funding will allow so any donation of any amount will make a tremendous difference to sustain the momentum in ALS research.
Q: How good are Canadian ALS researchers?
A: This past year, ALS Canada assessed where Canadian ALS research stands in terms of impact on the field of ALS and it was clear that Canada is one of the top few countries in the world in this respect. Canadians’ impact has also grown at a faster rate of the past decade than any other country in the G8. By measuring how many times Canadian ALS research has been referenced by our peers, Canada stands only behind the USA and United Kingdom over the past decade. This means that as Canadians have invested in ALS research here, it has correlated into us being very important towards the global effort to understand the disease and find new treatments. Our group is collaborative and internationally respected. In addition, a number of the biggest breakthroughs made over the past three decades have come from Canadian labs, the second multidisciplinary ALS clinic in North America was in Canada and we have a strong network of ALS clinics across the country that are involved in bringing the best international clinical trials here. ALS Canada’s focus on translational research will ensure that the best research contributing to achieving our vision of making ALS a treatable disease, will be funded.