Two faculty members receive brain research funding
June 23, 2015
Two faculty members Timothy Murphy, Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Elizabeth Simpson, Professor, Department of Medical Genetics have recently received funding provided by CQDM, Brain Canada, and the Ontario Brain Institute as part of their Focus on Brain strategic initiative. This new initiative has benefited six teams of neuroscience researchers that are receiving a total of $10 million in funding to help address unmet needs in neuroscience.
Dr. Murphy’s research team receives $1,416,375 in funding for three years. The research project is titled, “Glutamate: the messenger whose flow of information is crucial in studies of brain diseases.” 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.
Dr. Simpson’s research team receives $1,496,062 in funding for three years. The research project titled, “DNA in the service of eye diseases.” Professor Simpson’s team hopes to develop and test new promoters – strands of DNA adjacent to genes that are essential for their expression – which enable protein production. These promoters are essential tools for the pharmaceutical industry, which uses genes as therapeutic agents in an approach called gene therapy. Gene therapy seeks to insert a functional gene and its promoter into a patient’s cells in order to produce the protein that can cure or prevent a disease. Professor Simpson’s lab specializes in ocular gene therapy for eye disorders such as blindness, a disease that causes great human suffering and socioeconomic impacts. Dr. Simpson’s innovative approach stands out with respect to the number of promoters tested. The team hopes to develop 30 new promoters, designed to deliver specific genes to the eye. The size of these promoters will be minimized in order to facilitate their use in different therapies for eye cells. The administered genes are then translated into useful therapeutic proteins for various eye diseases and related treatments.