An amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) researcher has been appointed to lead the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). This week, the Minister of Health, Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, announced that Michael J. Strong, MD, has been appointed as the new President of the CIHR, starting October 1, 2018.

Dr. Strong is currently the Dean of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Distinguished University Professor at Western University.

He is also a rare disease researcher. Dr. Strong has published over 185 peer-reviewed articles— most focused on advancing our understanding of ALS at the genetic, cellular, and systems levels.

Most recently, his research team revealed that many ALS patients have some form of frontotemporal dementia and that is likely due to the deposition of Tau protein. In an interview with ALS Canada last year, Dr. Strong stated, “We know that some form of frontotemporal dementia in ALS is very common. The full spectrum includes mild impairment that may not be noticeable or cause problems, dysfunctional frontotemporal syndrome with behavioural or cognitive impairment, and full dementia, which affects about 15 percent of cases. All of those pooled together are found in well over half of ALS patients.”

Moreover, he has used his research to spearhead new possible treatments for ALS and frontotemporal dementia. Dr. Strong said, “We know exactly what causes tau protein deposition. We can reproduce it and we have identified four different drugs that can completely stop the process.”

In 2012, he was given the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his efforts in advancing ALS research.

That ability to translate basic and clinical research into possible treatments is exactly what CIHR strives to accomplish. In a news release, the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor said, “I am pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Michael Strong as the new President of CIHR. Dr. Strong’s distinguished track record as a biomedical researcher, professor, and administrator, whose contributions to science include expanding our understanding of the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, will serve him well in his new role. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Roderick McInnes for his service to Canadians and the health research community during his tenure as Acting President of CIHR.”

CIHR is Canada’s federal funding agency for health research. Each year, it invests approximately $1 billion in research. CIHR is composed of 13 Institutes: [1) Aging. 20 Cancer Research, 3) Circulatory and Respiratory Health, 4) Gender and Health, 5) Genetics, 6) Health Services and Policy Research, 7) Human Development, Child and Youth Health, 8) Indigenous Peoples’ Health, 9) Infection and Immunity, 10) Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis, 11) Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction, 12) Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes, 13) Population and Public Health.]

Fingers crossed the appointment of Dr. Strong will encourage the government to expand research into other rare diseases since such research, like Dr. Strong’s research, often leads to a better understanding of not just the rare disease (e.g., ALS) but also more common diseases (e.g., dementia). A nice first step would be to create a 14th institute at CIHR called ‘Rare Diseases’.