Brain-iStockCQDM, Brain Canada and the Ontario Brain Institute (OBI) award close to $8.5M to six multi-disciplinary and multi-provincial research teams across Canada to address unmet needs in neuroscience within their Focus on Brain strategic initiative. Included among the six teams selected, are teams led by Jean-Paul Soucy from McGill University and by Don van Meyel from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre.

The projects will unite 33 researchers from a dozen organizations in academia and SMEs across Canada to develop cutting-edge tools, technologies and platforms designed to accelerate the discovery of new, safe and effective drugs for brain and nervous system disorders to benefit patients and their families. Thanks to CQDM’s unique mentoring program, these researchers will also have the opportunity to collaborate with senior scientists from the pharmaceutical industry who bring industrial expertise and support to the projects, to help better align research with the needs of industry and patients.

A description of the two McGill-affiliated projects:

The eye: a window to the brain

Jean-Paul Soucy (McGill University), Frederic Lesage (Polytechnique Montréal), Sandra Black (Sunnybrook Research Institute), Jean-Philippe Sylvestre (Optina Diagnostics), Jean Daniel Arbour (Université de Montreal), Pedro Rosa-Neto (Douglas Hospital Research Centre), Barry Greenberg (Toronto Western Research Institute), Chris Hudson (University of Waterloo) and Daniel L. Farkas (The Brain Window, Inc.) $1,977,500 / 3 years

To date, Alzheimer’s disease remains incurable and can only be diagnosed once symptoms begin to manifest themselves via the presence of β-amyloid plaques (Aß) and tau strands in the brain. The difficulty in developing new drugs for this disease is largely due to the difficult and late diagnosis of the disease. The ability to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage would afford a better understanding of its genesis in addition to radically transforming the design of clinical trials in order to develop new treatments. The eye provides a window to the brain through the retina, which may also have Aß plaques in individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. It is suggested that Alzheimer’s disease is detectable by a simple noninvasive analysis of the eye. Jean-Paul Soucy and his team believe that is so and will develop a retinal imaging platform using fluorescence combined with advanced imaging instruments to detect Aß plaques in the retina of patients. This imaging platform will enable the detection and early diagnosis of the disease in at-risk patients which will facilitate the development of drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Glutamate: the messenger whose flow of information is crucial in studies of brain diseases
Don van Meyel and Keith K. Murai (Research Institute-McGill University Health Centre), Adriana Di Polo (Research Centre of the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal) and Timothy H. Murphy (University of British Columbia) $1,416,375 / 3 years

The purpose of this project is to use a revolutionary protein engineering technology called Cyto-iGluSnFR and adapt it in order to discover new drugs leading to the treatment of a variety of brain and eye diseases. This innovative platform relies on a modified protein which allows the detection of glutamate levels that enter cells. Glutamate is an important messenger that carries information from one neuron to another, and the means to study it are currently very limited. Studying glutamate is important because its measurement and control can allow researchers to determine its effect on some neurological diseases such as stroke, glaucoma and Alzheimer’s disease. Glutamate levels in the brain are precisely regulated by glial cells located in close proximity to neurons, through transport proteins on their surface called EAATs. The adaptation of the Cyto-iGluSnFR to these brain cells will allow the screening of millions of chemical compounds that will lead to the development of drugs that will effectively target the EAATs, allowing the modulation and restoration of glutamate flow into glial cells, required for proper brain function.

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