Diagnosing rare forms of Parkinson’s disease
Master’s student Sarah Coakeley is using medical imaging technology to scan the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease and compare them to brain images of people who are healthy and those who have two rare disorders, multiple system atrophy and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP. Using radioactive dye that binds to a protein that accumulates in the brain cells of people with these diseases, she hopes to develop a diagnostic test for PSP.
REM sleep disorder as a precursor to Parkinson’s disease
At the Université de Montréal, Dr. Jacques Montplaisir is investigating the link between REM sleep behaviour disorder and Parkinson’s disease. About 80 percent of people with the sleep disorder go on to develop Parkinson’s. By scanning their brains and guts for the presence of a particular chemical, Montplaisir hopes to develop a biomarker that will predict who is at risk of developing Parkinson’s – enabling them to be targets for future drug trials of compounds that could eventually stop the disease before it gets firmly established and damages the brain.
Bringing the brain back to a healthy balance
At the Toronto Western Research Institute, neurophysiologist Natasha Radhu uses Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to study the brain’s excitatory and inhibitory circuits. She is investigating whether an imbalance in the circuits in the motor cortex, the section of the brain that governs movement, leaves people with Parkinson’s disease unable to calm a barrage of signals to the area of the brain that directs movement. If she can demonstrate this imbalance, she hopes her research will lead to a diagnostic tool and a way to see if medication used to treat Parkinson’s is effective.
Critical connections among brain cells
The contact brain cells make with one another is proving to be critical for the survival of these neurons. At the University of Montreal, PhD student Charles Ducrot is investigating whether the brain cells that are central to Parkinson’s disease are dying because they have fewer synapses than other neurons and can’t make direct contact with their neighbouring cells. If his theory is true, it could open a future avenue for genetic therapy.
Tracking the Transportation Gene
At the University of British Columbia, PhD student Chelsie Kadgien is zeroing in on the function of a particular gene that, when mutated, is linked to late -onset Parkinson’s disease. Kadgien investigates VPS35 to see if its role in transporting proteins that help brain cells communicate could eventually become the target for a drug that could disrupt or repair the problems that damaged forms of the gene cause.
The value of basic research: discovering links to Parkinson's
At the Lunenfeld Tannenbaum Research Institute in Toronto, cell biologist Geoffrey Hesketh is investigating the function of the Retromer group of proteins, which he has linked to 10 genes that, when damaged, cause Parkinson’s disease. Unlocking exactly how these genes work together and what other proteins they communicate with may eventually point the way to a new drug or therapy that can treat Parkinson’s.
Silencing defective genes: a possible treatment strategy
At the University of British Columbia, neuroscientist Austen Milnerwood studies how brain cells communicate with each other and how mutations in the proteins and genes that cause Parkinson’s disease affect that cell-to-cell communication. By understanding and correcting the changes that mutations induce in the brain even before symptoms occur, Milnerwood hopes researchers will eventually be able to prevent Parkinson’s or stop its progression.
Building a better mouse
One of the chief obstacles limiting the success of research into Parkinson’s disease has been the difficulty of duplicating the symptoms of the disease in animal (mouse) models. At the University of Montreal, neuroscientist Louis-Eric Trudeau believes he has identified a critical difference in the structure of brain cells that will help him to create a better mouse model of Parkinson’s disease, removing this roadblock to discovering causes and treatments for this illness.
Clinical Movement Disorders Fellowship
Diagnosing and treating cognitive deficits with Parkinson’s disease
At Toronto’s Sunnybrook Research Institute, Dr. Sean Udow, a neurologist, is dividing his year as a Clinical Movement Disorders fellow honing his clinical skills and researching the potential connection between blood pressure fluctuations and cognitive deficits in people with Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies.
The pulsating brain and its implications for Parkinson’s disease
At Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto, Dr. Bradley MacIntosh is using imaging technology to track volatile blood flow in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease. By correlating blood flow with fluctuations in white matter and cognitive decline, he hopes to create a diagnostic tool that could spot Parkinson’s disease early and potentially suggest ways of treating it by controlling blood pressure.
Location, location, location: the right target for deep brain stimulation
At Laval University, neuroscientist Frederic Bretzner investigates a new target for deep brain stimulation. By testing the way different groups of neurons in a particular structure of the brain called the pedonculopontin nucleus respond to stimulation, he hopes to solve the mystery of why some people with Parkinson’s disease respond well to this surgery to treat their motor symptoms, and others do not. The answer may lie in where electrodes are positioned in the brain, and in what groups of neurons are stimulated.
Parkinson’s and the female brain
Although Parkinson’s disease affects both men and women, women are less likely to develop it but more likely to experience severe motor symptoms and side-effects of treatment, such as involuntary movements known as dyskinesia. At Queen’s University, neuroscientist Emily Hawken investigates the gender differences that may affect the transmission of chemicals in the brain, including whether estrogen causes brain cells to react differently in Parkinson’s. She hopes her work will inform different treatment models that will be more effective for women.
Testing a new way to treat dyskinesia
At the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, Dr. Philippe Huot combines his clinical practice as a neurologist with his skills as a researcher to search for a new drug that could reduce the involuntary movements most people with Parkinson’s disease eventually experience. By modulating a chemical messenger in the brain called glutamate, he hopes to reduce or eliminate those movements without altering the beneficial effects of the standard treatment that reduces the motor symptoms of the disease.
Quality of Life
How anxiety triggers freezing in place
Kaylena Ehgoetz Martens is going all the way to the University of Sydney, in Australia, to investigate the link between anxiety and freezing of gait that threatens the independence of many people with Parkinson’s disease. By scanning the brains of people playing a virtual reality game while they manipulate pedals with their feet to simulate walking, she hopes to identify the brain structures involved in anxiety and freezing, providing clues for eventual treatment.
Screening for chemicals that could keep brain cells healthy
Professor Siegfried Hekimi, a geneticist at McGill University, has developed a new tool that will allow researchers to screen thousands of chemical compounds to see if any of them boost the levels or function of ubiquinone. Ubiquinone is critical to the health of mitochondria, the tiny organisms within a cell that produce the energy cells need to survive. If Hekimi can find a compound that stimulates ubiquinone and keeps cells healthy, he will have opened an avenue for a new drug to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.