The ALS Canada Research Program awards $650K for three innovative new research initiatives, with an additional $1 million to be announced in 2021

TORONTO – The ALS Society of Canada today announced that as part of its 2020 research commitment, the ALS Canada Research Program is investing $650,000 in three new initiatives that will contribute to the development of potential ALS therapies and strengthen ALS clinical care in Canada. The investments are in keeping with the need for Canadians living with ALS to have access to quality care, and for innovative new treatments that change the reality of the disease and its devastating impact.

As the only dedicated source of ALS research funding in Canada, the ALS Canada Research Program plays an essential role in the sustained research investment needed to address unanswered questions about the causes and progression of ALS so that targeted treatments can be developed. The three initiatives are being funded following of a peer-reviewed grant competition that engaged a panel of scientific experts in prioritizing projects grounded in scientific excellence and with the potential to most quickly advance the field of ALS research, contributing to the knowledge base needed to develop treatments.

The research being funded seeks to answer the following questions:

  • Will advanced brain imaging help to support ALS clinical trial enrolment and evaluation? Being able to objectively measure the progression of ALS is critical both for determining someone’s prognosis, and in assessing the effectiveness of clinical trials. With this $200,000 award Dr. Collin Luk, a clinician scientist at the University of Alberta, will study an advanced MRI technique called texture analysis to learn if it could be a biomarker for the onset and progression of ALS. He will collaborate with the Canadian ALS Neuroimaging Consortium (CALSNIC) to validate his findings. If successful, his research could help predict disease progression, aiding clinical trial recruitment and giving researchers an objective tool to better evaluate the effectiveness of promising new treatments. Dr. Luk will also study how this technique may be evolved to expedite ALS diagnosis, which is currently a lengthy and stressful process.
  • Can wearable sensors improve the convenience and quality of clinical trials? Typically, people living with ALS provide their care team with updates on limb function only during clinic visits, which can occur months apart. Dr. Gordon Jewett from the University of Calgary will study if wearing arm and leg sensors could help to track changes in limb movement as people’s ALS symptoms progress, enabling movement data to be collected between clinic visits and improving the quality of movement reporting during clinical trials. This $200,000 grant is supported in partnership with the Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Canada, Inc. (MTP-CA) Fellowship Program., which enabled his Fellowship training. It could also make clinical trial participation more convenient, with fewer clinic visits required at a time when new advances in remote evaluation are more important than ever.
  • Can identification of new biological targets represent promising new antibody treatment strategies for ALS? Dr. Silvia Pozzi, currently a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Jean-Pierre Julien’s lab at the Université Laval CERVO Brain Research Centre, is aiming to develop antibodies that can delay or stop the progression of ALS. Her work will validate how the interaction of two specific proteins can activate a biological pathway that eventually leads to motor neuron death. While she will initially try to prevent this protein interaction in mouse models, if successful, she hopes to determine if similar effects can be seen in humans, which would result in a new target for the development of ALS treatments for clinical trial. This $250,000 grant is supported in partnership with la Fondation Vincent Bourque.

“ALS Canada is incredibly proud to support these promising young researchers. We look forward to each of them becoming the leaders of tomorrow and permanent contributors to the Canadian ALS research and care landscape,” said Dr. David Taylor, VP Research ALS Society of Canada. “The critical areas of clinical care, biomarker identification and development, clinical trial outcome measures, and identification of new treatment targets all contribute to improved care, treatments and quality of life for people living with ALS.”

Generous support from donors and partners have made this competition possible during the COVID-19 pandemic when health research funding is so challenged. In addition to the grants awarded in partnership with la Fondation Vincent Bourque and MTP-CA, all three initiatives have received funding support from provincial ALS Societies across Canada who contribute 40 percent of net proceeds from their local Walk to End ALS fundraising events.

Based on an additional grant competition taking place this fall, more projects receiving funding will be announced in early 2021.

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. As the only dedicated source of funding for ALS research in Canada, the ALS Canada Research Program aims to accelerate research impact by providing funding for the best ALS projects focused on translating scientific discoveries into treatments for ALS.

Collectively through initiatives like the Walk to End ALS, ALS Societies across Canada support the ALS Canada Research Program. ALS Societies across Canada work together to maximize our collective impact and make the greatest difference for people affected by ALS. Our approach as eight independent organizations working in partnership enables us to respond to the variation that exists between provincial healthcare systems, where we each play a role in filling gaps by providing community-based support. ALS Societies advocate federally, provincially and locally on behalf of people and families living with ALS for policy changes that will have a meaningful impact today and in the future.

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