Biomarkers

Peering into the living brain 
Dr. Christopher Phenix

University of Saskatchewan
Pilot project grant
$45,000 over 1 year

At the University of Saskatchewan, PET imaging radiochemist Christopher Phenix is discovering new compounds that could be used as a radioactive tracer to allow researchers and clinicians to scan the brains of people with Parkinson’s to measure the activity of a protein that may signal the presence of the disease. Not only could this invention be instrumental in developing a diagnostic aid for Parkinson’s, it may also help test the effectiveness of new drugs designed to target that same protein.


Opening a new window on the link between intention and action in Parkinson’s disease
Dr. Michael Vesia
Krembil Research Institute, University Health Network (Toronto)
Basic Research Fellowship
$100,000 over 2 years

Michael Vesia, a post-doctoral fellow at Krembil Research Institute in Toronto, is applying sophisticated analytical technologies to understand the relationship between particular brain states and bodily actions. By comparing observations for healthy individuals and those suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, he is revealing the details of brain function in a way that could improve the diagnosis and treatment of these patients.


Causes

Investigating fungi: A new frontier in Parkinson’s disease
Dr. Silke Appel-Cresswell
University of British Columbia
Funded by Parkinson Society British Columbia
Pilot Project Grant
$44,996 over 1 year

The micro-organisms that are present in our gut are providing researchers who study Parkinson’s disease with a new frontier for investigation. At the University of British Columbia, Dr. Silke Appel-Cresswell is examining the role that fungi in the gut may play in influencing Parkinson’s disease. If she can demonstrate a connection between particular fungi and symptoms of Parkinson’s, her work could potentially open an avenue for early treatment involving antibiotic-like medications or probiotics.


Discovering a way to put Parkin to work 
Jacob Aguirre
Western University
Graduate student award
$30,000 over 2 years

Mutated forms of the Parkin gene cause the early onset of Parkinson’s disease that people inherit. At Western University in Ontario, PhD student Jacob Aguirre uses Nuclear Magnetic Imaging to study the gene and try to understand its atomic structure. By mapping the gene and its protein right down to that level, he hopes to find a target for drug or gene therapy that can activate damaged forms of Parkin to help it do its work within cells, preventing or treating Parkinson’s disease.


Repairing the transportation system within our brain cells 
Stefano Cataldi, PhD student
Centre of Applied Neurogenetics, University of British Columbia
Quebec Research Fund on Parkinson* and Parkinson Society British Columbia
Graduate student award
$30,000 over 2 years

At the University of British Columbia, graduate student Stefano Cataldi studies the VPS35 protein to determine its specific role in regulating the movement of proteins inside brain cells. He’s looking for a new drug target to repair a malfunction that occurs within cells when this protein is mutated, disrupting the cell’s transportation system and leading to the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Repairing the protein’s function could eventually prevent the disease from developing.


Understanding how Parkinson’s spreads through the brain
Dr. Abid Oueslati 
Laval University
Pedaling for Parkinson’s New Investigator Award
New Investigator Award
$90,000 over two years

Laval University researcher Abid Oueslati’s work examines the similarities between a protein linked to Parkinson’s disease and the behaviour of the strange proteins known as prions, which are also responsible for damaging brain tissue. This research is opening up new possibilities for exploring the disease in laboratory mice as well as in stem cells taken from patients.


Discovering the role one tiny protein plays in causing Parkinson’s disease
Eric Shoubridge, Professor

McGill University
Pilot Project Grant
$45,000 over 1 year

At McGill University, Professor Eric Shoubridge studies the role mitochondria – the power plant within cells that generates energy – play in Parkinson’s disease, and particularly the function of one particularly tiny protein called CHCHD2. Learning about CHCHD2’s role in Parkinson’s and its relationship to other mitochondrial proteins may eventually help researchers design drugs or other therapies to interfere with the process that currently results in Parkinson’s disease.


Chasing the culprit in Parkinson’s disease
Dr. Joel Watts, Professor 

University of Toronto
Pedaling for Parkinson’s New Investigator Award
New Investigator Award
$90,000 over 2 years

University of Toronto biochemist Joel Watts is taking the understanding built up around the diseases linked to the notorious prion proteins, and applying this knowledge to unravel the underlying molecular processes of Parkinson’s disease. His work promises to shed new light on the way in which a key protein spreads through the brain of someone with Parkinson’s disease, as well as revealing possible therapeutic targets for stopping that spread.


Helping cells cope with stress
Dr. Jungwoo Yang

University of Ottawa
Basic Research Fellowship
$100,000 over two years

When proteins within brain cells are not properly folded, the resulting stress causes a key enzyme (PERK) to launch a biochemical cascade that poisons and kills these cells, a process that is related to the development of Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. By inhibiting the action of PERK, researchers plan to demonstrate how this damage could be prevented.


Immune cells, the appendix, and Parkinson‘s disease: unravelling its origin
Dr. John Woulfe

Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Pilot Project Grant
$44,115 over 1 year

Long before Parkinson’s disease begins killing the brain cells required to control movement, researchers now believe it originates in the gut and may move along the nerves connected to the brain. Dr. John Woulfe, a neuropathologist, is studying whether clumping of a protein called alpha-synuclein, thought to be the cause of Parkinson’s, might originate in the appendix, and then move through the nerves that connect it to the brain. If he is successful, his work may provide an early drug target to stop Parkinson’s before it begins its deadly journey to the brain.


Clinical Movement Disorders Fellowship

Smoothing the course of Parkinson’s medication
Dr. Ariel Levy, Clinical Fellow

University of Toronto / Morton and Gloria Shulman Movement Disorders Clinic at Toronto Western Hospital
The Garden Centre Group Co-op Corp. Clinical Movement Disorders Fellowship
$50,000 over 1 year

Research fellow Ariel Levy studies the use of a pump to deliver levodopa directly into the intestinal tract of people with Parkinson’s disease. The pump should minimize the unpleasant fluctuations in response that occur when people take the drug in conventional pills. Using this new technology is an attempt to meet the needs of people with advanced stages of Parkinson’s, an area that has received less attention than the drive to make early diagnoses to slow symptom progression.


Cognitive Impairment

New hope to halt compulsive gambling
Dr. Catharine Winstanley 

University of British Columbia
Funded by Parkinson Society British Columbia
Pilot Project Grant
$45,000 over 1 year

Up to 20 percent of people who take a class of drugs called dopamine agonists to treat their stiffness, tremor or freezing in place develop devastating impulse control problems such as compulsive gambling. At the University of British Columbia, Catharine Winstanley uses animal models to test drugs that block a protein called GSK3, which is linked to those impulse problems. If successful, her research will remove a major stumbling block to using a successful medication to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.


Complications

Exercise to change the brain
Dr. Marc Roig, Assistant Professor

McGill University
Pilot Project Grant
$44,907 over 1 year

High-intensity exercise can trigger the brain’s ability to adapt and learn or re-learn tasks after a stroke or injury. At McGill University, neuroscientist Marc Roig and his team are involving people with Parkinson’s in high-intensity cardiovascular exercise, and then testing their ability to perform motor tasks. By mapping their brains using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Roig will record changes in the brain activity of people when they are on or off medication, to see how exercise and dopamine interact and can improve motor function.


Neuronal correlates of turning impairments in Parkinson’s disease
Caroline Paquette, Assistant Professor
McGill University
New Investigator Award
Amount awarded over 2 year: $90,000 over 2 years

At McGill University, Assistant Professor  Caroline Paquette is using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans to  determine the regions of the brain involved in the freezing in place that some  people with Parkinson’s disease experience when they walk – particularly when  they try to turn.  Paquette with also use Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to create electrical  activity in those affected areas of the brain, to try to reduce freezing.

Neuroprotection

A pharmaceutical workhorse leads the way
Dr. Jonathan Brotchie, Senior Scientist 

Krembil Institute, Toronto Western Hospital, University Health Network
Porridge for Parkinson’s (Toronto) Pilot Project Grant
Pilot Project Grant
$45,000 over 1 year

Dr. Jonathan Brotchie, Senior Scientist at Toronto Western Hospital, is examining the role of the venerable anti-malarial drug chloroquine in slowing down the development of Parkinson disease. Although research on this now generic drug offers little incentive for drug companies that would prefer to develop new compounds under patent protection, Parkinson Canada’s support of this work offers an opportunity to evaluate chloroquine as a drug that can treat this disease now, while serving as proof of principle for investigations creating more sophisticated agents.


Second brain becomes the first line of defense
Andrée-Anne Poirier, PhD student 

Laval University
Parkinson Canada/FRQS Partnership
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years

Treatments for the effects of Parkinson’s disease on nerve tissues of the digestive system could be a way of preventing the spread of this condition to the brain. A doctoral researcher from Laval University, Ms. Poirier, works on repurposing drugs initially developed for hormonal therapy, with the hypothesis that they could also be used to fast-track drugs to slow down disease progression.


Preventing brain cells from running out of fuel
Dr. Wei Yi 

McGill University
Basic Research Fellowship
$80,000 over 2 years

Mutations in the biochemical mechanism that enables brain cells to dispose of damaged components can damage and ultimately kill these cells, which can cause the symptoms of Parkinson disease. Dr. Wei Yi, a post-doctoral fellow in the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) at McGill University, has identified an agent that might correct this behaviour and provide an effective therapy for people with Parkinson’s disease.


Quality of Life

Lighting up the brain under treatment
Sohail Noor, PhD student 

University of Calgary
Parkinson Canada/University of Calgary Partnership
Graduate Student Award
$30,000 over 2 years

Although deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a highly effective means of eliminating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, it requires a clinician to adjust its parameters, which may take months to obtain optimal results. Moreover, Parkinson’s is a dynamic condition with hour-to-hour changes. University of Calgary doctoral student Sohail Noor is working on optical imaging technology that will monitor the blood flow in the patient’s brain and feed this information to the stimulator so that its operation can be optimized for the best result.