2017 ALS research review

Together, we give hope.

ALS Quebec is proud to contribute to the ALS Canada Research Program, which invests in the best ALS research in Canada that will have significant impact on the global effort to create a future without ALS.

In 2017, 12 new research projects totalling $3 million were funded through the ALS Canada Research Program including a $1.8 million study of a promising drug combination; three trainee grants that will help to nurture the next generation of Canadian ALS researchers currently pursuing their PhDs; two projects that explore how ALS treatments could be delivered through the bloodstream; and an initiative that seeks to understand why the muscles of the eyes are often unaffected in people living with ALS even as other muscle groups shut down. All the projects being
funded seek to answer questions that will help to move us from greater understanding of ALS to the development of therapies for human use.

Simply put, there is more ALS research to fund than money available – making it necessary to have a proven method for making difficult decisions about which research receives funding. The ALS Canada Research Program awards funding based on a peer review process that is continually evolving and being optimized. Known within the scientific community as the gold standard for assessing all types of research, peer review engages independent experts in evaluating the quality and rigour of research papers and proposals.

 

THE ALS CANADA RESEARCH
PROGRAM BY THE NUMBERS

  • $3 million invested in ALS research across
    Canada in 2017.
  • 12 projects funded, including a $1.8 million
    project funded with the Brain Canada
    Foundation.
  • More than $300,000 invested in Project MinE,
    an international research collaboration that is
    studying the DNA profiles of 15,000 people
    living with ALS and 7,500 control subjects in
    order to identify the genetic patterns that
    might lead to the development of ALS and
    better target the development of treatments.
    This research investment included a $150,000
    matching contribution from the Brain Canada
    Foundation through the Canada Brain
    Research Fund, with the financial support of
    Health Canada.
  • 150+ Canadian ALS researchers in
    attendance at the 13th annual national
    research forum, an event that supports
    knowledge sharing and collaboration among
    Canada’s ALS research community.
  • 10+ hours of ALS research content offered to
    the public during the second annual virtual
    research forum, which featured 25 speakers.
  • 3 scientific conferences sponsored including
    the 13th Annual Fondation André-Delambre
    Symposium.

 

Research spotlight

DRE HEATHER DURHAM,
McGill University / Montreal Neurological Institute

In ALS and many other neurodegenerative diseases, one of the defining characteristics is that proteins can become misfolded and clump together. In many of our body’s cells, protective mechanisms increase the production of heat shock proteins that prevent misfolded proteins. But in our motor neurons, the ability to produce heat shock proteins can be impaired, possibly making them more vulnerable to misfolding.

For years, Dr. Heather Durham at McGill University/the Montreal Neurological Institute has been studying drugs that might enhance heat shock protein response in motor neurons. Recently, she has found a particular drug combination that can greatly increase the production of heat shock proteins in motor neurons.

This project sets the stage for researching a promising drug combination that may one day become an important therapy for people with ALS. Dr. Durham and collaborating researchers Dr. Josephine Nalbantoglu, Dr. Richard Robitaille, and Dr. Chantelle Sephton will seek to find the optimal combination of heat shock drugs together with a histone deacetylase drug and then examine the protective capabilities of the best combination in ALS mice. They will also investigate how the drugs work, which could lead to the development of potential biomarkers for human clinical trials in the future. The team will collaborate with multiple biotech and pharmaceutical companies that own the unique heat shock and histone deacetylase drugs. If this project is successful, the next step would be for drug companies to conduct toxicity testing and ultimately clinical trials with human
volunteers.

“These drugs have been in development for decades, but a combination approach has never been tested,” said Dr. Durham. “ALS is complex… and we haven’t been able to make a sufficient impact on it yet.”

A $1.8 million investment, this project is co-funded by the Brain Canada Foundation through the Canada Brain Research Fund (with financial support from Health Canada) through matching funds committed following the Ice Bucket Challenge.

 

 

AUDREY LABARRE, Université de Montréal

When you hear the word probiotics, you may automatically think of the digestive benefits of foods such as yogurt. But what if certain probiotics could also play a protective role in ALS?

Audrey Labarre, a doctoral student in Alex Parker’s lab at Centre de recherche du CHUM, is using a $75,000 Trainee Award from ALS Canada to advance some surprising discoveries. In 2016, with an ALS Canada-Brain Discovery Grant, Audrey was able to successfully identify how specific probiotics “rescued paralysis and motor neuron death in ALS worms.”

Thanks to the Trainee Award, Audrey will now be able to study if there are similar effects with these probiotics in mice.

 

Thank you to all Canadian researchers for feeding hope of a future without ALS!
to learn more about the ALS Canada Research program, please visit als.ca.

 

 

Roxanne Goulet