Media releases

  • Brock-industry partnership focused on treating Duchenne muscular dystrophy

    MEDIA RELEASE: 25 January 2023 – R0007

    It’s a genetic condition that takes people young. Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), characterized by progressive muscle wasting and weakness, is a disease Val Fajardo is determined to treat.

    “Without a cure, affected individuals will live a shortened lifespan,” says the Brock University Assistant Professor of Kinesiology. “In addition to muscle weakness, many patients will experience cognitive impairment, which will further dampen their quality of life.”

    Fajardo, Canada Research Chair in Tissue Remodelling and Plasticity throughout the Lifespan, studies an enzyme called GSK3.

    While GSK3 is involved in a cell’s metabolism, immunity and differentiation, it can also lead to muscle wasting and declines in heart and brain function if overactivated.

    Fajardo’s ongoing research on how and why this happens, and how to suppress GSK3, led him to contact AMO Pharma Inc., a biopharmaceutical company developing drugs to treat neuromuscular and central nervous system symptoms of rare diseases.

    The U.K.-based company produces a drug called tideglusib, which has been proven to inhibit GSK3.

    Fajardo connected with AMO Pharma a few years ago in hopes of testing tideglusib’s efficacy in treating the muscle damage and weakness that occurs with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

    Although their discussions were positive and exciting, the timing for a research partnership wasn’t right, he says.

    His research team stuck with their GSK3 investigations not only within the context of muscular dystrophy but also for other conditions such as obesity and spaceflight.

    The American space agency NASA awarded the team two separate batches of muscle samples – one in 2020 and another last year – from subjects originally aboard the International Space Station so that the researchers could see what happens to GSK3 and other muscle signalling pathways during spaceflight.

    Also last year, the Canadian Space Agency granted Fajardo and his team $150,000 to carry out similar research investigating whether stopping the enzyme GSK3 can prevent space travellers from experiencing muscle loss and weakness, bone fragility and cognitive decline, which occur when spending time in space.

    “If you can figure out ways to stop or slow down muscle loss in space, why not apply that here on Earth for aging or other diseases?” Fajardo says.

    Duchenne muscular dystrophy was at the top of his mind.

    The team got the break they needed when Fajardo was named Canada Research Chair in 2020.

    “With the support of this award, we were able to collaborate with other talented researchers at Brock University on stopping GSK3 for Duchenne muscular dystrophy,” he says. “We have accumulated promising data with tideglusib.”

    When the Brock-Niagara Validation, Prototyping and Manufacturing Institute (VPMI) put out a call for university-industry research partnerships, Fajardo remembered his animated discussions with AMO Pharma and reached out once more — finding it was now a fitting time to connect.

    From the days of their initial discussions, “Dr. Fajardo has progressed his studies in Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which were compelling in the first instance and have attracted worldwide interest when presented recently in their most current iteration,” says AMO Pharma Chief Science Officer Mike Snape.

    “In discussion it became clear to us that Dr. Fajardo has a much better understanding of DMD than any other researchers we have spoken with in the past,” he says.

    In the VPMI-AMO Pharma partnership, Fajardo and his team will test the effectiveness of tideglusib in a more severe model of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The researchers will focus their attention on cardiac and skeletal muscle health and function.

    “The development of a new medicine that was universally applicable to all DMD patients and able to treat all organ systems would be a game changer,” says Snape.

    Fajardo has also joined forces with Associate Professor of Health Sciences Rebecca MacPherson to co-supervise PhD student Emily Copeland, who will determine whether tideglusib treatment and GSK3 inhibition in the brain can reduce the cognitive impairments that are often found in patients living with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

    “This work has implications for research into tissue degeneration in many other muscle-wasting conditions and potentially aging more generally, so we anticipate the potential to build a larger collaboration,” says Snape.

    For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:

    * Doug Hunt, Communications and Media Relations Specialist, Brock University or 905-941-6209

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    Categories: Media releases

  • Brock experts weigh in on the business of Bell Let’s Talk

    EXPERT ADVISORY: 24 January 2023 – R0006

    Bell Canada is taking a new approach to Let’s Talk Day this year, changing the donation format for its signature charitable initiative that raises funds in support of mental health.

    Brock University researchers say that while the change in strategy may be aimed at taming past criticisms of the company and campaign, the public is not quick to forget.

    The telecommunications giant announced earlier this month it would make a lump-sum $10-million donation to mental health organizations in place of the previous format that saw five cents donated each time #BellLetsTalk was used on social media or in a text during the one-day fundraiser, held annually on Jan. 25.

    Todd Green, Brock University Associate Professor of Marketing, International Business and Strategy, says the company’s former approach relied on customers to drive Bell’s philanthropic donations, which “left a bad taste in some consumers’ mouths.”

    Green, whose research focuses on corporate social responsibility (CSR), including consumer response and the role of CSR in marketing communications, says taking the responsibility out of customers’ hands and proactively donating is a step in the right direction, but more action is needed.

    Bell Let’s Talk Day has been highly criticized in recent years, due in part to widespread company layoffs within weeks of the initiative in 2021, followed by public complaints by employees about workplace culture in 2022.

    Green says when it appears organizations are not following through with causes they claim to care about, and not providing related supports to their employees, it can be detrimental to their image.

    Consumers will be closely watching Bell Canada’s actions before, during and after Let’s Talk Day, which will speak volumes above the $10-million donation, he says.

    Brock University Accounting Professor Hemantha Herath says that while the lump-sum donation was a favourable move for the telecom company, sharing more detail on specific programs the funds are supporting would help to rebuild the public’s trust.

    Herath’s research examines the breakdown of where and how charities allocate their funds between program activity, administration and fundraising. The public, he says, is often more supportive of non-profit organizations that can demonstrate they put the majority of their funds towards program activity.

    “If Bell can show how much of this $10 million will be put towards program activity at the organizations its supporting, there will be more buy in,” Herath says. “It will carry weight with the public if they can show exactly where their money is going, which may encourage further support of the charities they’ve chosen.”

    Brock University Associate Professor of Marketing, International Business and Strategy Todd Green and Accounting Professor Hemantha Herath are available for media interviews on the topic.

    For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:

    * Doug Hunt, Communications and Media Relations Specialist, Brock University or 905-941-6209

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    Categories: Media releases