July 20, 2011 - The University of Western Ontario is one of nine universities which will share 2.9 million dollars in research grants announced by PrioNet Canada (www.prionetcanada.ca) to study Prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s. Prion diseases are fatal, infectious and transmissible neurodegenerative diseases affecting both humans and animals including mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans, and chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and elk.
The goal of the funding which supports 11 projects is two fold, explains Dr. Neil Cashman, Scientific Director of PrioNet Canada, one of Canada’s Network of Centres of Excellence. “By working with our partners, we aim to continue to protect Canada against classical Prion diseases like chronic wasting disease and mad cow disease, and we’re also providing benefit to Canadians through the development of innovative therapeutics to treat common neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS.”
The research team from Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry includes: Marco Prado, Jane Rylett, Stephen Ferguson, Vania Prado, John MacDonald, James Choy, Rob Bartha, Michael Strong and Ravi Menon. Other collaborators are Neil Cashman from University of British Columbia, and Vilma Martins and Glaucia Hajj at the A. C. Camargo Hospital in Brazil. The team will receive $600,000 to investigate whether the prion protein could be a therapeutic target in Alzheimer disease.
“Both Alzheimer’s and Prion are neurodegenerative diseases, and in both neurons die,” explains Marco Prado, a scientist at the Robarts Research Institute. “We are starting to realize that prion protein which plays a major role in Prion diseases might also play a role in Alzheimer’s by interacting with amyloid beta, one of the toxins in Alzheimer’s. This interaction could affect the way neurons function, or may even cause their death. The support from PrioNet Canada will allow us to test if this hypothesis is correct and hopefully to find novel therapeutics for both diseases.”
Both diseases take a heavy toll on lives and the country’s economy. In 2010, the cost of dementia in Canada was estimated at $22 billion a year. In 2003, markets were closed to Canadian beef after a case of BSE was found in Alberta, causing an economic loss estimated at more than $6 billion.