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Research Area: Treatment of Parkinson's
Understanding balance and walking in Parkinson’s disease
Stephanie Tran
PhD Student
University Health Network
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years

Poor balance and difficulty walking are among the toughest symptoms to reduce in people with Parkinson’s disease. At the University Health Network, PhD student Stephanie Tran studies the three major sensory systems involved in balance: sight, proprioception, and the vestibular system. She wants to learn how these systems interact and which are most affected by Parkinson’s. She hopes to use her new knowledge to create cues for people to improve balance.


Research Area: Causes
Modelling Parkinson’s disease
Cynthia Kwan
PhD Student
Montreal Neurological Institute
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years

Despite decades of research, there’s no cure for Parkinson’s disease and no therapies that protect against it. At the Montreal Neurological Institute, PhD student Cynthia Kwan is developing an animal model to reproduce the progression of the disease and its symptoms. She’s using the model to follow the impact of a synthetic form of the protein alpha-synuclein on the brain, to see how it spreads and accumulates. She hopes the knowledge she gains will help researchers find a drug to stop the progression of Parkinson’s.


Research Area: Complications
Development of a clinical care pathway for apathy in understanding why personalities change for people with Parkinson’s
Bria Mele
PhD Student
University of Calgary
Funded by The Lanka Charitable Foundation
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years

About 40 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease suffer from apathy, which means they lack passion and motivation and may not exhibit or feel strong emotions. Often, apathy is misdiagnosed and treated as depression, although the medications prescribed for depression may make their symptoms worse. At the University of Calgary, PhD student Bria Mele is developing a clinical tool so clinicians, caregivers and people with Parkinson’s can recognize and diagnose apathy and consider treatment options.


Research Area: Biomarkers
Improving memory, reasoning and judgment
Iman Beheshti
Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Manitoba
Basic Research Fellowship
$100,000 over 2 years

As many as half of people with Parkinson’s disease eventually experience some degree of cognitive decline. At the University of Manitoba, Iman Beheshti, a postdoctoral fellow, is applying Transcranial Direct Caudate Stimulation (tDCS) to the part of the brain called the caudate nucleus. Beheshti hopes applying an electrical current to stimulate the caudate regularly during this two-year project will improve the cognitive abilities of people with Parkinson’s disease.


Research Area: Motor Control
Using non-invasive brain stimulation to unfreeze gait
Alexandra Potvin-Desrochers
PhD Student
McGill University
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years

Some people with Parkinson’s disease experience freezing of gait every day. Unfortunately, medication that reduces motor symptoms of this disease doesn’t usually help with freezing. At McGill University, PhD student Alexandra Potvin-Desrochers is investigating the connectivity between the regions of the brain involved in freezing. Her aim is to determine whether combining rTMS—repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation—with balance and gait training will reduce freezing and improve the daily lives of people with Parkinson’s disease.


Research Area: Treatment of Parkinson's
3D software to better stimulate the brain
Greydon Gilmore
PhD Student
Western University
Funded by The Lanka Charitable Foundation
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years

Deep brain stimulation acts as a “pacemaker for the brain” to reduce motor symptoms for people with Parkinson’s disease. At Western University, Greydon Gilmore, a PhD student, is creating software to map the brain to ensure surgeons place electrodes in exactly the right spot to help stimulate neurons. The 3D software will also enable neurologists to check after surgery to see if the electrodes are where they’re supposed to be and will enable better programming of the device to deliver maximum benefits to patients.


Research Area: Biomarkers
Pinpointing the connection between Parkinson’s disease and REM sleep behaviour disorder
Jessie De Roy
PhD Candidate
Université du Québec à Montréal
Funded in partnership with Fonds de recherche du Québec - Santé
Graduate Student Award
$10,000 over 2 years

More than a third of people with Parkinson’s disease also have REM sleep behaviour disorder, a potentially dangerous condition in which they act out their dreams. At the Université du Québec à Montréal, PhD student Jessie De Roy uses brain imaging and other tests to determine which areas of the brain this disorder affects. She hopes pinpointing any brain abnormalities associated with this condition, correlated with severe symptoms of Parkinson’s, will eventually lead to better treatments.


Research Area: Biomarkers
Putting assessment in the hands of patients
Dr. Babak Taati
Scientist
University of Toronto
Pilot Project Grant
$50,000 over 1 year

Babak Taati and Yana Yunusova of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute are developing a software program that could run on hand-held electronic devices and regularly record information about a patient’s condition. The tool would significantly enhance the ability of clinicians and patients to track the course the disease and direct treatment accordingly.


Research Area: Biomarkers
Mood, meditation, and the autonomic nervous system
Dr. Chenjie Xia
Assistant Professor
McGill University
New Investigator Award
$90,000 over 2 years

At McGill University, Dr. Chenjie Xia, a neurologist and assistant professor, is studying the association between depression, anxiety and other mood disturbances in people with Parkinson’s disease, and their autonomic nervous systems. She hopes to demonstrate that association and then try to use mindfulness and other forms of meditation previously shown to regulate the autonomic nervous system to see if meditation will also improve mood.


Research Area: Causes
How toxic forms of alpha-synuclein get into these dopamine-producing brain cells
Armin Bayati
McGill University
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years

Stopping the spread of toxic proteins before they kill the brain cells that control movement would revolutionize the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. At McGill University, PhD student Armin Bayati is investigating how a protein called alpha-synuclein enters neurons, and then how the toxic proteins spread to other cells. Clumps of alpha-synuclein kill the brain cells that produce dopamine, the signaling chemical that controls movement. Bayati’s research could provide a new target for Parkinson’s therapy.


Research Area: Causes
New cellular model for Parkinson’s
Dr. Janelle Drouin-Ouellet
Professor
University of Montreal
John McEown Parkinson Canada New Investigator Award
$90,000 over 2 years

At the University of Montreal, Professor Janelle Drouin-Ouellet, a neurobiologist, is using a new technique that converts skin cells into brain cells to study the relationship between aging and Parkinson’s disease. By using these cells to create a new model of Parkinson’s, she can investigate if or how mitochondria, the organelles within cells that make them breathe, are malfunctioning and causing brain cells to die. She hopes to find multiple causes for this malfunction, eventually leading to personalized treatment for people with Parkinson’s.


Research Area: Causes
Screenings genes to find the cause of Parkinson’s
Dr. Thomas Goiran
Postdoctoral Fellow
McGill University
Basic Research Fellowship
$100,000 over 2 years

Researchers believe clumps of a misshapen protein called alpha-synuclein that accumulate in dopamine-producing brain cells cause their death and produce Parkinson’s disease. Without enough of the signalling chemical, the brain cells can’t communicate with each other and carry out their functions. At McGill University, postdoctoral researcher Thomas Goiran is using the state-of-the-art gene editing tool CRISPR to identify the genes that predispose people to Parkinson’s and contribute to the buildup of alpha-synuclein and subsequent cell death.


Research Area: Causes
Understanding a critical protein at the atomic level
Dr. Vladimir Ladizhansky
Professor
University of Guelph
Pilot Project Grant
$50,000 over 1 year

At the University of Guelph, Professor Vladimir Ladizhansky, a biophysicist, is using nuclear magnetic resonance to examine the way a protein called alpha-synuclein interacts with cell membranes. Alpha-synuclein is a key culprit in the death of brain cells that produce dopamine, the chemical that communicates with the body’s motor control system. By understanding this cellular process at the atomic level, Ladizhansky hopes to find clues to how better control the process.


Research Area: Causes
Regulating the regulators
Dr. Pascale Legault
Université de Montréal
Funded by Parkinson Québec
Pilot Project Grant
$50,000 over 1 year

Pascale Legault, who directs the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at Université de Montréal, is examining proteins that control the behaviour of complex biological molecules called microRNAs. These molecules regulate proteins to maintain the health of neurons in the nervous system, a process that breaks down when that regulation fails and leads to Parkinson’s disease. By learning more about how microRNAs are themselves regulated, she hopes to prevent this process from getting started.


Research Area: Causes
Studying cranky immune cells
Dr. Ramy Malty
Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Regina
Funded in partnership with University of Regina
Basic Research Fellowship
$100,000 over 2 years

At the University of Regina, Postdoctoral Fellow Remy Malty investigates the molecular pathways that activate microglial immune cells in the brain. Normally intended to fight infection or injury, with age microglial cells can become overly sensitive to injury or stress and attack and kill the brain cells that produce dopamine. Loss of dopamine leads to developing Parkinson’s disease. By identifying the molecules that activate microglial cells unnecessarily, Malty hopes to find how to block this process without reducing the immune system’s beneficial effects in the rest of the body.


Research Area: Treatment of Parkinson's
Tapping into a new source of information about Parkinson’s disease
Dr. Christel Renoux
McGill University
Funded by Parkinson Québec
Pilot Project Grant
$50,000 over 1 year

Dr. Christel Renoux, a neurologist and epidemiologist with McGill University and the Jewish General Hospital’s Lady Davis Institute, will consult a large electronic archive of patient data to determine the effectiveness of a particular class of drugs against the development of Parkinson’s disease. These drugs, called ß2 agonists, have already been demonstrated to have some clinical value, but this research should reveal more precisely how they help patients in real life.


Research Area: Causes
Linking genetics and inflammation in Parkinson’s disease
Dr. Michael Schlossmacher
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Funded by Parkinson Society British Columbia
Pilot Project Grant
$50,000 over 1 year

The Ottawa laboratory of Dr. Michael Schlossmacher has identified what may be a critical role for an inflammation-driven chemical agent called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in a particular Parkinson’s disease-related gene mutation. Individuals with this gene who have elevated inflammation could experience increased ROS levels in their nervous system and brain, leading to the degeneration that characterizes this condition. Schlossmacher and his team are looking for the mechanism behind the elevated ROS as a potential target for treating the disease.


Research Area: Causes
Sleep, socioeconomic status, and Parkinson’s disease
Faustin Armel Etindele Sosso
PhD Candidate
Université du Québec à Montréal
Funded in partnership with Fonds de recherche du Québec - Santé
Graduate Student Award
$5,000 over 2 years

Some people with Parkinson’s disease experience insomnia and/or daytime sleepiness. At the Université du Québec à Montréal, PhD student Faustin Armel Etindele Sosso is studying the relationship between someone’s socioeconomic status and these sleep disturbances, to see if he can shed light on ways to tailor treatment programs for these symptoms to the specific needs of people with Parkinson’s in a variety of socioeconomic situations.


Research Area: Causes
The brain’s lymphatic system and therapies to prevent Parkinson’s disease
Dr. Naomi Visanji
Scientific Associate
Edmond J. Safra Program in Parkinson Disease,
Toronto Western Hospital
Funded by Pedaling for Parkinson’s in honor of Don MacLean
Pilot Project Grant
$49,488.76 over 1 year

Researchers have recently discovered that the brain has its own lymphatic system for draining toxins, waste and other unwanted materials. At Toronto Western Hospital, Scientific Associate Naomi Visanji is exploring whether this system can clear the protein alpha-synuclein, which is linked to cell death in Parkinson’s disease. If her work finds the brain’s lymphatic system can clear alpha-synuclein, her research will provide a new target for therapies to prevent the process that underlies Parkinson’s disease.


Research Area: Clinical Fellowship
A new angle on basic Parkinson’s research
Benoît Delignat-Lavaud
PhD Candidate
Université de Montréal
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years

Researchers studying Parkinson’s disease have largely focused on the release of dopamine, a chemical that controls movement, from the part of the brain cells called axon terminals. At the Université de Montréal, PhD student Benoît Delignat-Lavaud investigates the release of dopamine from a different part of cells: the dendrites and the soma, or cell body. He hopes his research will lead to a way to have other parts of brain cells compensate for dopamine loss from the terminals. That could ultimately lead to a new treatment target for Parkinson’s.


Research Area: Clinical Fellowship
Offering the best possible care
Dr. Emily Swinkin
Clinical Fellow in Movement Disorders
University Health Network
Funded by Pedaling for Parkinson’s in honor of Hartley Richardson
Clinical Fellow in Movement Disorders
$50,000 over 1 year

As a clinical fellow at the Toronto Western Hospital Movement Disorders Clinic, Dr. Emily Swinkin will learn more about how to use techniques like deep brain stimulation and an intestinal gel called Duodopa to better treat people with complicated cases or those in the later stages of Parkinson’s disease. She looks forward to building strong relationships with her patients and giving the time to understand the way Parkinson’s affects all aspects of their lives.


Research Area: Cognitive Impairment
Predicting cognitive impairment in people with Parkinson’s disease
Dr. Alexandru Hanganu
Assistant Professor
University of Montreal
New Investigator Award
$88,432 over 2 years

Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and transcranial magnetic stimulation, Dr. Alexandru Hanganu is charting changes that occur in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease who also have neuropsychiatric symptoms (such as depression, anxiety, apathy, impulsive behaviour or sleep disorders). Hanganu, an assistant professor at the University of Montreal, plans to create an algorithm to predict people at risk of dementia, opening the way for earlier treatment or ways to prevent further decline in people with Parkinson’s disease who also have mild cognitive impairment.


Research Area: Cognitive Impairment
Using transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) to improve cognitive abilities.
Dr. Ji Hyun Ko
Assistant Professor
University of Manitoba
Funded by Pedaling for Parkinson’s (Prince Edward County)
New Investigator Award
$90,000 over 2 years

Deep inside the brain, a structure called the caudate nucleus is responsible for people’s ability to understand, evaluate and take action to achieve goals. These cognitive abilities are impaired in some people with Parkinson’s disease. At the University of Manitoba, Assistant Professor Ji Hyun Ko is investigating the use of a technique called transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) to send electrical charges through regions of the brain connected to the caudate, to try to improve these cognitive abilities.


Research Area: Cognitive Impairment
Mapping sleep disturbance in the brain
David Rémillard-Pelchat
PhD Candidate
Université du Québec à Montréal
Funded in partnership with Fonds de recherche du Québec - Santé
Graduate Student Award
$10,000 over 2 years

At the Université du Québec à Montréal, PhD student David Rémillard-Pelchat is investigating the relationship between disturbances in the electrical activity of the brain during sleep and structures in the brain that may be damaged. He hopes to find a way to predict which people with Parkinson’s disease will eventually develop dementia – a marker that could be important to give people access to new therapies developed to prevent cognitive decline.


Research Area: Bio Statistics
Modelling to predict Parkinson’s
Dr. Juan Li
PhD, Methodologist/Postdoctoral Fellow
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Funded by Parkinson Society of British Columbia
Basic Research Fellowship
$100,000 over 2 years

Predicting who might develop Parkinson’s disease remains a difficult task for doctors and researchers. At the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, biostatistician Juan Li is validating a model called PREDIGT that could end this uncertainty. The model, which her colleagues at The Ottawa Hospital have developed, combines information regarding environmental and genetic factors with gender and age to determine who has Parkinson’s and who could potentially develop the disease.


Research Area: Quality of Life
Quality of life: how people with Parkinson’s define it
Dr. Ayse Kuspinar
Assistant Professor
McMaster University
Funded by Parkinson Society British Columbia
New Investigator Award
$89,249.51 over 2 years

One of the tools researchers use to evaluate the risks, benefits and cost-effectiveness of new drugs or treatments is a questionnaire called a preference-based measure that assesses how a therapy will affect a patient’s quality of life. At McMaster University, Assistant Professor Ayse Kuspinar is asking people with Parkinson’s disease what constitutes quality of life. She’ll incorporate their values in the first Parkinson-specific preference tool to help researchers, clinicians and policymakers to evaluate treatments.


Research Area: Treatment of Parkinson's
Glutamate: The other brain chemical
Dr. Philippe Huot
Assistant Professor
McGill University
Funded by Rudy's Run in honour of Rudy Erfle
Pilot Project Grant
$50,000 over 1 year

At McGill University, Dr. Philippe Huot, a neurologist and assistant professor, is testing the ability of potential new drugs to regulate a signalling chemical in the brain called glutamate. Huot and his team believe glutamate plays a critical role in the uncontrollable movements (dyskinesia) that many people with Parkinson’s experience when they are on levodopa. Levodopa is the drug used to treat the loss of dopamine, another signaling chemical in the brain. Since the loss of one chemical can put the other one out of balance, Huot’s goal is to restore that balance and reduce the amount of levodopa that people take.


Research Area: Treatment of Parkinson's
A new target for deep brain stimulation that could directly improve walking
Linda Kim
PhD Candidate
Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary
Funded by Parkinson Society British Columbia
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years

Stiffness, freezing and falling are among the problems that emerge when people have had Parkinson’s disease for some time. At the University of Calgary, PhD student Linda Kim is exploring ways to activate a group of cells in the brain called A13. She believes A13 might hold a reserved source of dopamine, the signaling chemical that’s instrumental to movement. Her research could present a new target for therapies to treat walking problems in people with Parkinson’s.


Research Area: Treatment of Parkinson's
Spinal cord stimulation device to improve mobility
Olivia Samotus
PhD candidate
Western University
Funded by The Lanka Charitable Foundation
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years

Shuffling, slowness, and freezing of gait reduce the independence and hamper the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s disease. At Western University, PhD student Olivia Samotus, a neuroscientist, is using an implantable battery that generates pulses of electricity sent to electrodes implanted above the spinal cord to see if this stimulation improves people’s walking ability and helps them regain independence.