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The W. Garfield Weston Foundation makes one-of-a-kind, $16.7-million philanthropic grant to revolutionize the treatment of brain disorders

March 2, 2020

Prototype of the new deviceGalen G. Weston

TORONTO, ON – The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, through its Weston Brain Institute, has made a landmark $16.7-million philanthropic grant to establish the Weston Family Focused Ultrasound Initiative at Sunnybrook.

This initiative is set to revolutionize the treatment of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, brain cancer and ALS.

With this grant, the Foundation is spearheading a $33-million initiative to develop and bring novel focused ultrasound technology to Canadians. The Weston Family Initiative will accelerate development of a powerful new focused ultrasound device to enable the personalized treatment of brain disorders as never before. This initiative will culminate in the launch of three world-first clinical trials and bring this breakthrough technology to more patients faster.

In what is believed to be the largest single philanthropic contribution to focused ultrasound in the world, this one-of-a-kind grant will also ensure a steady stream of resources for ongoing development of this game-changing technology and other related endeavors. That means if the device is commercialized, a portion of the income generated will be reinvested in Canadian focused ultrasound research and innovation.

The creative structure of this grant serves as a new template for philanthropic grant-making in Canada, one that may be scaled and modeled by other Canadian charitable foundations for the purposes of fueling discovery and potential reinvestment in homegrown innovation.

“We are delighted to make this contribution to improve the treatment of brain diseases,” says Galen G. Weston, president of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation. “This initiative is a unique opportunity to accelerate the development of this breakthrough technology while encouraging leadership and innovation in the Canadian medical technology sector. The prospect of readying this device to benefit so many people in Canada and around the world is very exciting.”

“We are deeply grateful to The W. Garfield Weston Foundation for their early support for Sunnybrook’s pioneering work in focused ultrasound, and for taking this exciting next step,” says Dr. Andy Smith, Sunnybrook’s president & CEO. “On behalf of Sunnybrook, and so many Canadians who stand to benefit from better treatment for brain disorders, thank you for sharing our vision for a more hopeful future.”

About the technology

A team led by Sunnybrook’s Dr. Kullervo Hynynen, physicist and vice president of research & innovation, is completing a prototype of a powerful new focused ultrasound device. This breakthrough technology is nothing short of revolutionary. From one-size-fits-all to made-to-measure, the new device offers an unprecedented level of precision.

This extraordinary device is being designed specifically to harness focused ultrasound to open the blood-brain barrier, the brain’s tightly packed network of vessels that both protects it from toxins and prevents potentially helpful agents from entering − such as chemotherapy, antibodies, stem cells or gene therapy.

”The new device is based on a model of personalization and portability,” explains Dr. Hynynen. “Each device will be custom-produced based on scans of individual patients. It’s also frameless, making it more economical for clinical use since it does not require the real-time use of MRI. Finally, it is more comfortable for the patient. Not only is it completely non-invasive, but it can treat multiple locations in the brain at one time, making the procedure shorter.”

About the Initiative

With funds from the Weston Family Initiative, Sunnybrook’s experts can conduct research and device development on an accelerated timeline and achieve key outcomes in considerably less time than would otherwise be possible.

The primary goal of this initiative is to complete a prototype of the new device and demonstrate its efficacy in Canadians with various brain diseases. The Initiative’s ultimate ambition is to advance focused ultrasound technology so that treatments can be delivered quickly and without the need for MRI guidance, and to bring it to Canadian patients faster through clinical trials.

As part of the initiative, Sunnybrook’s clinical team, led by neurosurgeon Dr. Nir Lipsman, will test the device across three brain disorders: Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer that has spread to the brain, and glioblastoma (the deadliest and most common brain tumour).

“This technology holds tremendous promise for patients with difficult-to-treat brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, brain cancer and ALS, where the blood-brain barrier is a major obstacle,” says Dr. Lipsman. “These are some of the most complex disorders that have no effective treatments, so we’re excited to move closer to testing the device in clinical trials. The impact of this technology on patient care will be felt across Canada and around the world.”

Sunnybrook Foundation will look to the generosity of the community to raise the remaining funds required to complete this bold new vision for the treatment of brain disorders.

About The W. Garfield Weston Foundation

For three generations, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation has pursued its mission to enhance and enrich the lives of Canadians. With a focus on health and landscapes, the Foundation aims to catalyze inquiry and innovation to bring about long-term change. Now in its sixth decade, the Foundation continues to collaborate with a broad range of Canadian charities to further world-class research, explore new ideas, and create tangible benefits for the communities in which it works.

If you’d like to support the Weston Family Focused Ultrasound Initiative, donate now.

Media contact:
Jennifer Palisoc
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre