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2015-2017 Projects


Biomarkers


Diagnosing rare forms of Parkinson’s disease
Sarah Coakeley, Master’s student
University of Toronto (Centre for Mental Health and Addictions)
Porridge for Parkinson’s (Toronto) Graduate Student Award : $30,000 over two years

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
Dr. Jacques Montplaisir, Professor of Psychiatry,
Canadian Research Chair in Sleep Medicine, Université de Montréal
Funded by Quebec Research Fund* on Parkinson of Parkinson Quebec: $44,850 1 year

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
Dr. Natasha Radhu
, Post-doctoral Fellow
Toronto Western Research Institute (University Health Network)
Porridge for Parkinson’s (Toronto) Basic Research Fellowship: $80,000 over two years

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.


Causes


Critical connections among brain cells
Charles Ducrot, PhD Student
University of Montreal
Funded by Quebec Research Fund* on Parkinson of Parkinson Quebec
Graduate Student Award: $30,000 over two years

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
Chelsie Kadgien, PhD student
University of British Columbia
Dr. Robert Lorne Alexander Graduate Student Award : $30,000 over two years

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
Dr. Geoffrey Hesketh, Post-doctoral fellow
Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute
Mount Sinai Hospital/University of Toronto
Basic Research Fellowship: $100,000, 2 years

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
Dr. Austen Milnerwood, Assistant Professor
University of British Columbia
Pedaling for Parkinson’s New Investigator Award: $90,000 over two years

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
Dr. Louis-Eric Trudeau, Professor
University of Montreal
Funded by Quebec Research Fund* on Parkinson of Parkinson Quebec
Pilot Project Grant: $44,240 (one year)

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
Dr. Sean Udow, Post-Doctoral Fellow
University of Toronto (Sunnybrook Research Institute)
Garden Centre Group Co-op
Clinical Movement Disorders Fellowship: $50,000, 1 year

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.


Cognitive Impairment


The pulsating brain and its implications for Parkinson’s disease
Dr. Bradley MacIntosh, Scientist
Brain Sciences Research Program, U of Toronto (Sunnybrook Research Institute)
Porridge for Parkinson’s (Toronto) Pilot Project in Honour of Delphine Martin: 1 year $45,000

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.


Complications


Location, location, location: the right target for deep brain stimulation
Dr. Frederic Bretzner, Assistant Professor
Laval University
Pedaling for Parkinson’s New Investigator Award: $90,000 over two years

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
Dr. Emily Hawken, Post-doctoral Fellow
Queen’s University
Basic Research Fellowship: $100,000, 2 years

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
Dr. Philippe Huot, Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal
The Lawrason Foundation Pilot Project Grant: $45,000 (1 year)

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
Dr. Kaylena Ehgoetz-Martens, Post-doctoral Fellow
University of Sydney
Basic Research Fellowship: $80,000 over 2 years

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.


Neuroprotection

Screening for chemicals that could keep brain cells healthy
Dr. Siegfried Hekimi
, Professor, Strathcona Chair of Zoology
Campbell Chair of Developmental Biology, McGill University
Pilot Project Grant : $45,000
Funded by Quebec Research Fund* on Parkinson of Parkinson Quebec

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.