Chewing gum holds promise for people with Parkinson’s. London researchers investigate with award from PSC

Grant recipients Mandar Jog, right, Angie South middle and Stephanie Somers leftLONDON, ON, October 20, 2009 . . . London, Ontario researchers are determining if chewing gum will help people with Parkinson’s disease to swallow better. With a grant from Parkinson Society Canada, neurologist Dr. Mandar Jog, and speech language pathologists Angie South and Stephanie Somers of the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), University of Western Ontario hope that chewing gum will help improve swallowing for people with Parkinson’s.

“We hope that having people with Parkinson’s chew gum will improve their sensory motor memory,” says Dr. Mandar Jog, head of the Movement Disorder Program at LHSC.

According to Joyce Gordon, President and CEO of Parkinson Society Canada, a major problem for people with Parkinson’s disease is the difficulty they have swallowing as their disease progresses. “This kind of research goes a long way toward improving the quality of day to day living for people with Parkinson’s,” says Gordon.

The one year pilot project Sensorimotor priming for improving swallowing function in patients with Parkinson’s disease will test how long improvements in swallowing and secretion last if patients chew gum several hours a day.

“It’s already had a huge impact within our clinic,” South says of the response of those people who have tried it. “We’re having clients coming back saying they are swallowing better with meals”

Over 100,000 Canadians have Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disease that causes swallowing difficulty as the disease progresses.

The researchers are among five London grant recipients awarded funding by Parkinson Society Canada recognized at a Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario event held Tuesday, October 20, 2009 in London.

Christine Cullion-Hicks ($44,000) and Ventzislava Hristova ($30,000) also received awards from PSC. With her Psychosocial Doctoral Award for Awareness of deficit in Parkinson’s disease – Understanding patient reality Cullion-Hicks hopes to improve the assessment, treatment and counseling that people with Parkinson's disease receive by identifying the difference between the neurological, cognitive, functional, and biomechanical deficits caused by Parkinson's disease, and finding out how people with Parkinson's actually perceive those deficits.

Ventzislava Hristova, a PhD student in biochemistry received funding to study How Parkin mutations result in Autosomal Recessive Juvenile Parkinson’s (AJRP) and the physical structure of parkin, and how mutations affect its three-dimensional fold, which then prevents it from carrying out its normal activity in a cell. Studying the causes of cell death will lead to better understanding of how the neural degeneration begins and how the death of these cells is triggered in AJRP which may lead to better treatment, management and prevention.

“We are delighted to have so many young researchers engaged in efforts to make life better for people living with Parkinson’s,” said Carolyn Conners, CEO Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario.

Funds presented to the grant recipients were raised in SuperWalk for Parkinson’s an annual fundraising event that has been taking place in Southwestern Ontario for the past 14 years. Parkinson Society Canada funds pilot grants, new investigator awards, basic research and clinical fellowships as well as graduate awards to encourage innovative ideas and foster emerging scientists who choose careers to further understand Parkinson’s disease.

This year, Parkinson Society Canada is funding 28 projects across Canada totaling $1,079,340. Grant applications are peer reviewed by Parkinson Society Canada’s Scientific Advisory Board comprised of Canada’s leading neurologists and respected members of the scientific community. Parkinson Society Canada is the only Canadian charitable organization dedicated to research, education, support and advocacy on behalf of over 100,000 Canadians living with Parkinson’s. 2010 will mark PSC’s 45th year of service in Canada.