2017 Catalyst Program – Results

The Initiative’s first granting program in 2017 provides research support for high-impact projects that seek to develop novel microbiome-based therapies and provide proof-of-principle evidence for longer-term initiatives.

The Weston Family Microbiome Initiative is pleased to award five grants through its inaugural granting program to support research teams at universities across Canada who are undertaking innovative research on the microbiome and human health.

Funded projects focus on using probiotics and prebiotics for the development of new therapies to treat disease, as well as new preventative strategies to improve overall health. Funding will enable researchers to generate proof-of-principle evidence that is expected to catalyze longer term, larger scale projects that ultimately lead to real health applications. Projects were reviewed by an international panel of leading experts in the field.

The W. Garfield Weston Foundation has been a strong supporter of innovative medical research for many decades. The Foundation is proud to support world-class Canadian researchers as the field of microbiome research rapidly evolves, leading to breakthrough discoveries that will ultimately enhance the quality of life for Canadians.

2017 awardees include:

Rewilding the human gut: Reintroduction of the species Lactobacillus reuteri

Dr. Jens Walter; University of Alberta

The gut microbiome in industrialized societies has undergone a substantial decrease in bacterial diversity, likely due to a combination of factors such as use of antibiotics, modern clinical practices, sanitation and change in dietary habits. This project builds on prior work that demonstrated higher diversity of fecal microbiota in rural tribes in Papua New Guinea, compared with North American populations. One species in particular (Lactobacillus reuteri) was detected in every Papua New Guinean sample but not in a single US control; most importantly, this bacteria has been shown to exert substantial benefits towards host immune functions and development.

This project aims to demonstrate that L. reuteri can be ‘reintroduced’ into the gut of Canadians who are fed a diet designed to promote the growth of bacteria, and that this reintroduction will be associated with immunological and metabolic benefits to the host.

Dr. Jens Walter is Associate Professor and CAIP Chair for Nutrition, Microbes and Gastrointestinal Health at the Department of Agricultural, Food & Nutritional Sciences at the University of Alberta.


Novel probiotics to promote healthy aging and reduce susceptibility to respiratory infections in the elderly

Dr. Mike Surette, Dr. Dawn Bowdish; McMaster University

Serious respiratory infections such as pneumonia or influenza cause considerable mortality and morbidity, especially in older adults (age >55 years). It has been shown that the composition of the upper respiratory tract (URT) microbiota changes significantly with age, and that it loses species which are thought to be protective against the colonization of the URT by pathogens.

The goal of this project is to identify and isolate which members of the URT microbiome are associated with protection from infection in older adults, in order to develop probiotics that can specifically reduce susceptibility to respiratory infections.

Dr. Dawn Bowdish is Associate Professor at McMaster University and Canada Research Chair in Aging & Immunity.

Dr. Michael Surette is Professor, Department of Medicine at McMaster University and Canada Research Chair in Interdisciplinary Research.


Microbiota modulation with a hybrid CRISPR nuclease

Dr. Greg Gloor, University of Western Ontario

Our ability to change the composition of the microbiome is exceedingly blunt, non-specific, or of limited effectiveness. For example, antibiotics can kill both good and bad bacteria alike, which can lead to a compromised microbiome. This project aims to provide controlled and precise manipulation of microbial ecosystems on a per-taxon or per-gene basis by using CRISPR (“gene editing”) technology. This will allow killing of target pathogens and thus slow the growth of the target population relative to the rest of the bacterial population, to modulate the microbiota composition and reach a healthy equilibrium.

Dr. Greg Gloor is Professor of Biochemistry at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario.


Fecal microbial transplantation and fibre supplementation in subjects with obesity and metabolic syndrome

Dr. Karen Madsen, University of Alberta

Obesity is a highly prevalent chronic and progressive medical condition; current therapies have limited effect, minimal long term sustainability and high cost. Increasing evidence suggests a role for gut microbiota in obesity-related pathologies. This project aims to determine if fecal microbial transplantation (FMT) from lean donors combined with a diet supplementation of RS4 (a type of starch that can improve host metabolic function) has a clinically significant effect on metabolic outcomes in obese individuals, such as insulin sensitivity, lipid profiles and fasting glucose blood levels.

Dr. Karen Madsen is Professor of Gastroenterology and Director of the Centre of Excellence for Gastrointestinal Inflammation and Immunity Research (CEGIIR) at the University of Alberta.


Towards a clinical trial of microbiome-based therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder

Dr. Paul Forsythe, McMaster University

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating psychiatric disorder that can have major social and economic impacts on individuals. In a recent study of 24 countries, Canada had the highest overall rate of PTSD. While PTSD is classified as a psychiatric disorder, some evidence shows that neurological dysfunction may result from immune alterations. In particular, data indicated that anxious and depressive symptoms commonly found in PTSD patients could be associated with an altered gut microbiota. This project aims to test 2 candidate approaches to microbiome therapy for PTSD, a probiotic bacteria and a prebiotic human milk oligosaccharide (a carbohydrate), focusing on their potential to reverse the effects of chronic social defeat on brain and behaviour.

Dr. Paul Forsythe is Assistant Professor of Respirology at McMaster University.