Canadian Institute Awarded $1.57M for New Research Facility to Study Motor Neuron Diseases

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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SBMA research grant

More than $1.57 million in funding, recently awarded to the Canadian Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS), will go toward new research facilities, including one to study motor neuron diseases like spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).

The award, given by the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund and the government of Quebec, is aimed at establishing four facilities that foster innovative research and train highly qualified personnel. The funding will help advance scientific breakthroughs in the areas of environmental science, healthcare, innovative semiconductor development, and bio-imaging.

A new facility for studying the mechanisms of synaptic dysfunction in motor neuron diseases will enable Kessen Patten, PhD, a professor of genetics, to combine genetic, electrophysiological and real-time imaging approaches to study how connections between nerve cells and muscles, or synapses, become dysfunctional in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and SMA.

Patten, who earlier this year received a $627,300 grant from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) to study the mechanisms involved in SMA, focuses his research primarily on the early stages of SMA onset.

He studies SMA-associated genes in zebra fish to understand how they cause abnormalities in synapses. Specifically, he and his team look at genetic causes of pediatric musculoskeletal conditions, genetic mechanisms of neuronal survival in neurodegenerative diseases, zebra fish models of human neurological diseases and drug discovery.

Patten’s goal is to identify chemical compounds that restore connectivity between the nerve and muscle, as well as to develop targeted treatments to fight these neurodegenerative diseases.

Other facilities included in the grant are an Ecotoxicogenomics Research Centre to study the effects of environmental chemicals on the health of living organisms; a high-speed bio-imaging lab to map neuronal activity in order to study the origin and evolution of neurological disorders; and a molecular and device physics laboratory to design new lightweight, transparent, flexible, and large-area devices for applications in electronics, photonics, and energy.