With a budget of $8 million, two UdeM scientists at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute are probing the causes of neurological diseases and disorders such as autism, looking for new treatments.
As the ability of medicine to diagnose diseases expands, so does the need for science to decipher their causes. To that end, a team of neuroscientists at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute, affiliated with Université de Montréal, has launched a new project called NeuroBasis.
It’s an $8M, multi-institution collaboration aimed at studying the developmental origin of neurological conditions in order to find new ways of treating them. Specifically targeted are retinal degeneration, sensory and motor disorders, autism, epilepsy and pediatric brain cancer.
The idea behind NeuroBasis is simple: many diseases and disorders that are diagnosed later in life may originate in childhood, when the nervous system is being built. Being able to pinpoint the critical events that eventually cause these conditions means that their diagnosis and potential treatment could begin earlier, making a difference in many lives.
NeuroBasis is a “research loop” made up of teams of neuroscientists and clinicians whose goal is to identify genetic mutations in patients and replicate them in cultured neurons and animal models. The teams are using the latest technologies to study the effects of these mutations on the integrity and function of neurons, neuronal circuits and the whole nervous system.
Earlier detection of symptoms
The knowledge gained will be rapidly communicated back to the clinical team and may allow more accurate and earlier detection of symptoms, and the development of new treatments, the scientists say.
NeuroBasis is led by IRCM neuroscientists Artur Kania and Frédéric Charron. Along with their IRCM colleagues Michel Cayouette and Hideto Takahashi, they’re working closely with six other experts in neuroscience and genetics, as well as clinician-scientists, from UdeM, McGill University, the Montreal Neurological Institute, the CHU Ste-Justine and the McGill University Health Centre’s Montreal Children’s Hospital.
Their project is an outgrowth of Montreal’s vibrant community of scientists in neurobiology, and involves nearly 100 trainees, technical support staff and experienced researchers.
Funding to help support the project’s technological infrastructure is being provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Through its Innovation Fund, the CFI has earmarked over $3.1 million for NeuroBasis, an amount matched by Québec’s Ministère de l’Économie et de l’Innovation. Additional contributions from the IRCM Foundation along with other partners bring the total funding to nearly $8 million.
'A perfect opportunity'
“This funding will provide the NeuroBasis project with the state-of-the-art equipment we need to develop and analyze models of neurological diseases in the lab,” said Charron, an UdeM medical professor who runs the IRCM’s Molecular Biology of Neural Development research unit.
“Collaboration between discovery and clinician scientists is at the heart of this project,” added Robert Koenekoop, a clinician scientist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital who is involved in the project.
“In our clinic, we see young patients with terrible diseases," he said. “We can identify the genetic mutations but we need the expert help of people from Neurobasis to figure out why these mutations cause diseases. NeuroBasis creates a perfect opportunity to foster those synergistic collaborations that will help speed up discovery of much-needed new therapies.”
About the Canada Foundation for Innovation
For more than 20 years, the CFI has been giving researchers the tools they need to think big and innovate. Fostering a robust innovation system in Canada translates into jobs and new enterprises, better health, cleaner environments and, ultimately, vibrant communities. By investing in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment in Canada’s universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research institutions, the CFI also helps to attract and retain the world’s top talent, to train the next generation of researchers and to support world-class research that strengthens the economy and improves the quality of life for all Canadians. A full list of the funded projects and stories about the facilities funded are available online at Innovation.ca.