MITO2i Together With Its Partners Funds Innovative Projects
Accelerating the Field of Mitochondrial Research

MITO2i’s mission is to advance mitochondria research and innovation. Through our innovation grants, fellowships and scholarships, MITO2i is promoting interdisciplinary collaboration to transform and innovate the field of mitochondrial medicine.

MITO2i has developed partnerships with MitoCanada, Lily Foundation and the Thomas Zachos Scholars with a common goal to further mitochondrial research.  These valued partnerships secured additional financial support which has allowed MITO2i to fund more projects in the inaugural grant competition.  MITO2i would like to take this opportunity to thank all our partners for their generous contributions.

MITO2i is pleased to announce that 5 Innovation Grants, 2 Post-Doctoral Fellowships and 6 Graduate Student Scholarships will be awarded the funding. Below are a list of our inaugural awardees. 

The projects funded demonstrate the variety of fields and disciplines investigating the role of mitochondria function and dysfunction as it relates to mitochondrial disease as well as many other chronic conditions.  These projects will generate new knowledge and ideas in a broad range of research areas further opening the field for mitochondrial medicine and research.

MITO2i and MitoCanada Innovation Grants Awardees
"The epidemiology and health system impact of mitochondrial disease and psychiatric conditions in Ontario: A population-based study"
$80,000 (over 2 years) - Innovation Grant

The overall goal of this study is to use linked population health databases to characterize the epidemiology of mitochondrial disease and the co-occurrence with mental health conditions in Ontario. Our specific objectives are to examine: (1) the health care burden and costs associated with mitochondrial disease in a population-based cohort in Ontario; (2) the association between mood disorders and other mental health conditions in patients with mitochondrial disease; and(3) the joint impact of mental health conditions on the health care use, costs and mortality.

 

This study represents the first to establish a methodological approach to measure mitochondrial disease from population data across Canada. For the first time in Canada, we will contribute key epidemiological evidence to inform health and health care for those living with mitochondrial conditions, and further support hypotheses and research on the relationship between mitochondrial disease and mental health. This project will build the fundamental methodology that can be replicated in other Canadian provinces, and enable future international research, including comparisons of mitochondrial disease populations and further study of health care utilization and costs.

Nominated PI: Laura Rosella, Associate Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto

Co-PI: Trevor Young, Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Pharmacology, University of Toronto

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"Mitochondrial Metabolism Vulnerabilities in Breast Cancer"
$80,000 (over 2 years)

Breast cancer (BC) is the number one cancer killer of women. Improving survival and quality of life for patients with BC is limited by our ability to effectively personalize systemic therapies, reducing the risk of treatment resistance and disease recurrence, while minimizing the risks of toxicity associated with ineffective chemotherapeutic agents. Selection of an appropriate therapy for patients with locally advanced breast cancer (LABC), which typically involves treatment with chemotherapy prior to surgery, involves significant trial-and-error.  Most patients receive a standard cocktail of drugs, but only about one-third have a positive and complete response. We need to gather more information about how each patient’s tumour cells can be killed: in effect, personalizing treatment. 

 

Here we propose to identify genes in mitochondria of cancer cells that may contribute to their growth, survival and ability to develop resistance to chemotherapy. We now know that  cancer  cells  can  use  nutrients  differently  from  normal  cells,  which  raises  the possibility of new strategies to kill them. We call these ‘mitochondrial metabolism vulnerabilities’. Our novel approach will be to silence mitochondrial genes in LABC cells taken directly from patients using state-of-the-art genetic and imaging tools to identify tumour-specific vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities can then be targeted alone or in conjunction with lower doses of established therapies to kill tumours more effectively, reducing side effects. An exciting outcome of this work is the development of patient-specific therapies not based on trial-and-error, but a personalized approach based on the patient’s own tumour’s demonstrated drug sensitivities.

Nominated PI: Robert Screaton, Senior Scientist, Sunnybrook Research Institute

Co-PI(s): Katarzyna Jerzak, Medical Oncologist, Odette Cancer Centre, Sunnybrook Hospital

Collaborators: David Andrews, Senior Scientist and Director, Biological Sciences, Sunnybrook Research Institute

"Identification of candidate genetic susceptibility variants in the carnitine transporter and carnitine biosynthesis gene families in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A novel precision medicine target"
$80,000 (over 2 years)

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a severe early onset neurodevelopmental disorder demonstrating defects in social communication/interactions and repetitive patterns of behaviour. It occurs in ~ 1 % of the population and in ~10-20% of mitochondrial disorders, with intellectual disability (ID)in ~ 50 % of cases, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in 25-50 % and frequent psychiatric disorders. High-impact genetic mutations in key neurodevelopmental genes account for ~ 20 % of ASD.  Metabolic factors are also described in up   to   10-20 % of children which include abnormalities  in  the mitochondria, the energy-generating batteries of the cell, and in the carnitine (Cn)-dependent system. L-Cn is often used to treat mitochondrial disorders and is a key, safe vitamin that is important in generating energy for the brain,  protecting it from  toxic  free  radicals  and  helping neurotransmission. The brain has 3 Cn transporters and dysfunction of one is  associated  with  ADHD and  ID with significant  improvement  with  Cn therapy. Certain children with ASD have had a positive response to Cn, particularly those with defects in the Cn pathway.

 

We plan to identify genetic risk variants in the Cn transporter and Cn biosynthesis gene families, as  well  as clinical  risk  factors  leading  to  Cn deficiency in a group of children with ASD. Our approach will select Cn-relevant children for potential future clinical trials to test who may have a beneficial response to Cn leading to improved social communication, attention, and learning. The earlier the identification of children at risk, the greater the effect on brain development and quality of life.

Nominated PI: Ingrid Tein, Director, Neurometabolic Clinic, Hospital for Sick Children

Co-PI(s): Evdokia Anagnostou, Child Neurologist, Holland Bloorview Research Institute.

               Stephen Scherer, Senior Scientist, Genetics and Genome Biology, Hospital for Sick Children

Collaborators: Jessica Brian, Psychologist and Clinician-Investigator Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital

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"Investigation of the role of ClpP protease deficiency in Perrault syndrome with Leukodystrophy"
$60,000 (over 2 years)

Perrault syndrome is an autosomal recessive rare mitochondrial disorder characterized by hearing loss in both males and females with  females  also experiencing  ovarian  failure.  However, the disease is clinically heterogenous and affected patients exhibit additional neurological symptoms including spasticity, ataxia, and neuropathy. Mutations in six different genes, five of which encode mitochondrially-targeted proteins, have so far been linked to Perrault syndrome. One of these genes is CLPP, which encodes the mitochondrial ClpP protease.  Human ClpP is a nuclear-encoded serine protease that is translocated to the mitochondria viaan  N-terminal  targeting  sequence. In the mitochondria, ClpP assembles into a tetradecameric cylinder hat associates with an ATPase cap. The resulting ATPase-protease complex is involved in the degradation of several critical mitochondrial matrix and inner membrane proteins.

 

Currently, it is not known how CLPP mutations result in Perrault syndrome and there are no disease-modifying curative therapies. Current management is symptomatic only, e.g.cochlear  implantation  and  ovarian  hormone  replacement.  Effective therapies are urgently needed, especially to address the neurodegenerative aspects of this disease. In this work, we propose to investigate and characterize model and patient-derived cell lines carrying CLPP mutations to determine the molecular pathogenic basis of this mitochondrial disease.  Furthermore, the effect of compounds targeting ClpP on cell biology and physiology will also be studied. The project is a close collaboration between two groups with excellent expertise in ClpP biochemistry, biology, and treating patients with Perrault syndrome. The project has clear translational potential and is expected to advance the field of mitochondrial medicine.

Nominated PI:  Walid Houry, Professor, Department of Biochemistry, UofT

Co-PI(s): Shamima Rahman, Professor, UCL Great Osmond Street Institute of Child Health

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Lily Foundation & MITO2i Joint Research Award
"Neuropsychiatric and Brain Imaging Phenotyping of primary Mitochondrial Diseases"
$60,000 (over 2 years)

Involvement of the brain in mitochondrial disease is common and as a consequence, neurological manifestations, including also neuropsychiatric symptoms such as mood alterations, are very frequent. There has been no systematic study of these clinical aspects which are often missed and greatly disabling, therefore the neuropsychiatric aspects of mitochondrial disease remains very poorly defined. Information on how to do accurate and precise assessment of neuropsychiatric symptoms in mitochondrial disease is largely missing, which limits the ability of developing treatment trials targeting these symptoms. Furthermore, there is a critical need of defining biomarkers for brain involvement in mitochondrial disease, to learn how to best measure the effects of new therapeutics, in order to promote discovery of novel effective medications.  

 

Our study will integrate precise neuropsychiatric assessment, based on use of validated diagnostic instruments, cognitive testing, and tracking of mood fluctuations, with state-of-the-art neuroimaging techniques to assess brain metabolism and micro-structure, in adult patients with mitochondrial disease. The findings from this research will improve the evaluation of therapeutic interventions and signposting to appropriate services, and will enable precise assessment in future trials of novel therapeutics improving mitochondrial function in the brain.  Our project will therefore directly benefit patients with mitochondrial disease by contributing to better management of these disabling symptoms, and to the discovery of new effective treatments. The inter-disciplinary nature of the proposed research, integrating aspects of physical, brain, and mental illness, will contribute to tackle the stigma of mental health that patients with pathologies of the brain still regularly experience. 

Nominated PI: Alessandro Colasanti, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Psychiatry; Brighton and Sussex Medical School

Co-PI(s): Iris Asllani, MR Physicist and Research Associate Professor, Brighton and Sussex Medical School

Collaborators: Robert Pitceathly, MRC Clinical Scientist, UCL Institute of Neurology and National Hospital or Neurology and Neurosurgery

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MITO2i and MitoCanada Post-doctoral Fellowships - $30,000 for one year

"Sigma-1 receptors as therapeutic targets for mitochondrial dysfunction"
$30,000 (1 year)

There are millions of Canadians that suffer from diseases stemming from Mitochondrial dysfunction, including Alzheimer’s disease. The underlying molecular mechanism and its role in Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis remains poorly understood. Alzheimer’s disease patients and mouse models exhibit an imbalance within mitochondrial fission and fusion and this change within mitochondrial dynamics has significant consequences on synaptic and neuronal function.

 

Re-establishing an equilibrium within mitochondrial dynamics and morphology may serve as a potential therapeutic target for recovering mitochondrial function and neuronal homeostasis. Sigma-1-receptors, situated at the mitochondrion-associated ER membrane, are reduced in early Alzheimer’s disease patients and their agonist, Pentazocine, was previously shown to elicit potent neuroprotective effects. For these reasons, we are investigating the pharmacological significance of Sigma-1-receptors and their respective role on mitochondrial function. Our future research endeavours seek to identify whether the FDA approved drug Pentazocine can be repurposed as a therapeutic strategy for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and various other mitochondrial specific diseases.

Awardee: Royea, Jessika

PI: Khacho, Mireille, Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Immunology, University of Ottawa

Co-PI(s): Bergeron, Richard, Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

"Regulation of PINK1-Parkin Mitophagy by Molecular Chaperones"
$30,000 (1 year)

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a common disabling neurodegenerative disorder, affecting an increasing number of Canadians, for which we have no cure. This deficiency is due to the lack of treatments that target the key molecular pathways involved in the underlying pathogenesis of PD. We have recently identified a chaperone protein that modulates protein quality control and cell death by disrupting the removal of damaged mitochondria. These organelles are known as the powerhouses of the cell since they supply energy and regulate pathways important for cell survival known to be affected in PD. In this project we will use an approach that combines gene therapy and specialized targeting sequences that can engage this chaperone protein to test if this improves outcomes in preclinical models of PD. This work will provide the foundation to develop therapeutics that regulate chaperone proteins in the brain as a novel approach to treat PD.

Awardee: Kapadia, Minesh

PI: Kalia, Suneil, UofT -Dept of Surgery, UofT

Division of Neurosurgery Dept of Genetics and Development, UHN

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Thomas Zachos Scholars - Graduate Student Scholarships – 10,000 for one year

"Manipulation of Organ temperature and Metabolism for the Extension of Donor Lung Preservation Times"
$10,000 (1 year)

The ability to preserve lungs prior to the time of transplantation has made lung transplantation a clinical reality for those with end-stage lung disease. Currently, lung preservation is performed by flushing the organ with an organ-specific solution, and subsequently storing the organ on ice where it rests at approximately 4°C. Using this approach, preservation times are limited to clinical times of approximately 6-8 hours.  Longer preservation times will allow for the overcoming of geographical hurdles faced in organ donation, allow for more optimized donor and recipient matching, and progress lung transplantation towards a semi-elective procedure. Previous reports have shown increased mitochondrial degeneration during prolonged cold storage periods, with an association of worsening graft function. In this project, we aim to explore the specific role of organ temperature during lung preservation on mitochondrial health during the preservation period, with hopes of optimizing the current temperature being used to store lungs. With these findings, we further hope to explore new therapeutic approaches of mitochondrial protection during the cold preservation period such as mitochondrial transplantation and anti-oxidative metabolite preservation solution supplementation

Awardee: Ali, Aadil


PI: Cypel, Marcelo, Institute of Medical Sciences UofT, Thoracic Surgery, UHN
 

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"Novel approaches to eliminate mutant mitochondrial DNA and transplantation in patient-derived induced-pluripotent stem cells"
$10,000 (1 year)

Currently, treatments for mitochondrial dysfunction/disease are limited to antioxidants and compounds targeting specific mitochondrial proteins, however, an emerging approach is the transplant of freshly isolated mitochondria to injury sites. The use of mitochondrial transplants presents several challenges, including the need to identify autologous mitochondria with low levels of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations. Therefore, the overall objective of this study is to identify and optimize novel protocols for autologous mitochondrial transplantation in patient-derived induced-pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Specifically, we will: (1) Define the best method to reduce or eliminate mutant mtDNA in patient-derived iPSCs; and (2) Establish an efficient and stable mitochondrial delivery method. To date, we have finalized the mitochondrial isolation protocol and are in the process of optimizing the reintroduction of isolated mitochondria into ρ0 cells lacking mtDNA.

Awardee: Bodenstein, David


PI: Andreazza, Ana, Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, UofT


Co-PI: Hurd Thomas, Department of Molecular Genetics, UofT
 

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"Determining the role of PolG1 in eliminating deleterious mitochondrial DNA from the female germline"
$10,000 (1 year)

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is indispensable as it encodes components essential for ATP production. Despite its importance, limited recombination and repair mechanisms result in high rates of mutations in mtDNA which contributes to disease. Unfortunately, most tissues are incapable of selectively recognizing and degrading mutant mtDNA. The female germline, the tissue which gives rise to eggs, is unique, in that it is capable of selectively eliminating mutant mtDNA. We aim to uncover the mechanism through which the germline does this in order to manipulate these processes to eliminate mutant mtDNA from diseased tissues. We have identified a number of proteins that play a critical role in eliminating mutant mtDNA from the germline and are currently determining mechanistically how they work together to selectively eliminate mutant mtDNA.

Awardee: Jeedigunta, Swathi  


PI: Hurd Thomas, Department of Molecular Genetics, UofT


Co-PI: Andreazza, Ana, Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology
 

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"Mapping the genetic interactions of TAZ: towards a functional wiring diagram of the mitochondrion"
$10,000 (1 year)

Genetic interactions (GI) occur when mutations in multiple genes combine to generate an unexpected phenotype, and aid in our understanding of genotype-to-phenotype relationships in both health and disease. By investigating GI’s, we can map functional relationships between genes that can be used for identifying genetic elements involved in biological processes and disease, elucidate gene function, and discover therapeutic targets. The disease that has become a driver of my interest in how GI’s involving two or more genes can contribute to an individual’s disease phenotype is Barth Syndrome, rooted in mutations in the gene TAZ. There is extreme variability observed in Barth Syndrome patients even though one gene is responsible for this disease, suggesting that there are modifier genes or additional variants of TAZ that could be involved. My project aims to generate the first genetic interaction profile of the TAZ gene using a highly sensitive genome-wide CRISPR/Cas9 screening platform. In parallel this project aims to generate the first comprehensive reference genetic interaction map of the mitochondria in human cells, exploring relevant disease alleles and GI’s involved in both physiological and pathological conditions.

Awardee: Masud, Sanna


PI: Moffat, Jason, Department, Molecular Genetics, UofT


Co-PI: Boone, Charlie, Department Molecular Genetics, UofT
 

"Establishing a novel role of mental illnesses associated gene, Fxr1in regulation of mitochondrial function in cortical neurons. Potential relevance for the mitochondrial function dysregulation in psychiatric disorders"
$10,000 (1 year)

The project is designed to establish a link between psychiatric illnesses risk gene FXR1 and mitochondrial function that could explain mitochondrial malfunction in the patients with disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Firstly, we are planning to establish a molecular phenotype of mitochondria using cell culture models and CRISPR-Cas9 approach to target the gene of interest. Secondly, we will pursue a similar approach to knockout the gene of interest in cortical neurons of adult mice using viral delivery to check for mitochondrial phenotype. And at last, we plan to test if the protein of interest exhibits protective function against oxidative stress in mitochondria.

Student: Marakhovskaia, Aleksandra


PI: Beaulieu, Martin, Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, UofT


Co-PI: McPherson, Peter, Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, UofT
 

 

"The importance of mitochondrial dynamics in maintenance of neural stem cell function"
$10,000 (1 year) - Graduate Student Scholarship

Strong evidence suggests a key role for adult neurogenesis in tissue regeneration and cognitive function. Understanding the regulation and persistence of neural stem cells (NSC) in the adult brain is critical for real-life application in neurodegenerative diseases. Our group has shown that mitochondrial function plays a pivotal role in regulating NSC and cognitive function. Our goal is to identify how mitochondrial dynamics and metabolism regulate neurogenesis and learning and memory. Unbalanced mitochondrial dynamics results in mitochondrial fragmentation, which is seen during aging and at an accelerated rate in neurodegenerative diseases. Optic atrophy 1 (OPA1, a gene implicated in Parkinson’s Disease and Dominant Optic Atrophy) facilitates mitochondrial fusion and regulates energetics. We use Opa1 inducible knockout in mouse NSCs to model accelerated aging and neurodegeneration. We show that Opa1 loss leads to mitochondrial dysfunction which induces a cascade of cellular stress response that regulates cell survival at the expense of NSC proliferation.

 

This study reveals how mitochondrial dysfunction, typical of neurodegenerative diseases alters NSC fate decisions and identifies new regulatory targets by which to enhance mitochondrial function in the context of neurodegeneration. Modulating such stress conditions posed here opens new avenues in neurodegenerative disease therapeutic strategies.

Awardee: Iqbal, Mohamed Ariff


PI: Slack, Ruth, Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Ottawa

 

MITO2i would like to congratulate all the awardees and wish them success with their research projects!  MITO2i would also like to thank all applicants who applied for the 2020 round of funding.  MITO2i will remain engaged with all applicants and all the members of our community to continue to move mitochondrial research and innovation forward.

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