Overview

The 2020-2022 cycle funds projects across a range of streams, all of which seek to better understand the pathology, develop new treatments and improve the lives of Canadians with Parkinson’s.

More specifically, these projects will have a potential impact on symptoms management, quality of life and development of new biomarkers. For instance, the project of Dr. Matthew Krause aims to investigate transcranial electrical stimulation as an alternative and less invasive method to deep brain stimulation to help to manage motor symptoms in people with PD whose symptoms cannot be managed by medication. Dr. Kaylena Ehgoetz Martens studies freezing of gait, which compromises the quality of life and independence of people with PD, to identify situations that could lead to freezing episodes and develop therapies to prevent them. Finally, Dr. Silke Appel-Cresswell whose research on the gut could potentially develop new biomarkers for disease detection and identify new treatment targets.

Projects

Parkinson Canada and its partners are proud to support 20 new grants, fellowships, and student awards for the 2020-2022 research cycle, including:

  • Pilot Project Grants
  • New Investigator Awards
  • Basic Research Fellowships
  • Clinical Movement Disorders Fellowship
  • Graduate Student Awards

Finding the proteins to stop Parkinson’s disease


Dr. Yogitha Thattikota
Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University
Funded in partnership with Rudy's Run in honour of Rudy Erfle
Basic Research Fellowship
$100,000 over 2 years
Causes

At the Montreal Neurological Institute, Yogitha Thattikota, a post-doctoral fellow, is using cutting-edge genetic screening tools to study the proteins that regulate alpha-synuclein, another protein that’s a key player in Parkinson’s disease. Clumps of alpha-synuclein accumulate in the brain cells that produce dopamine, killing those cells and leading to Parkinson’s. If she can identify other proteins that cause the over-production of alpha-synuclein, Thattikota’s research could open a new avenue for a drug target to stop this process.

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Designing new drugs for Parkinson’s disease


Dr. Simon Veyron
Post-Doctoral Fellow, McGill University
Funded in partnership with Fonds de Recherche du Québec - Santé
Basic Research Fellowship
$50,000 over 2 years
Treatment of Parkinson's

At McGill University, Simon Veyron, a post-doctoral fellow, is searching for the basis of a new drug to treat Parkinson’s disease. Veyron, a biochemist, is combining fragments of molecules to create a substance that will bind to Parkin, a protein implicated in the process that causes inherited forms of Parkinson’s. If the compound Veyron creates can activate Parkinson and restore the protein’s function, the new substance could eventually form a drug that restores the health of the brain cells that die during Parkinson’s disease.

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Giving Voice to People with Parkinson’s disease


Marcelo da Silva Vieira
PhD Student, McGill University
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years
Cognitive impairment

At McGill University, Marcelo da Silva Vieira, a PhD student, studies the ability of people with Parkinson’s disease to interpret unclear sounds and to adjust the pitch and intensity of their voice. He’s using neuroimaging to correlate damage in the brain to these speech difficulties. His findings may result in better speech and language therapy.

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Non-invasive ways to stimulate the brain


Dr. Matthew Krause
Research Associate, McGill University
Funded by Parkinson Society British Columbia
Pilot Project Grant
$50,000 over 1 year
Treatment of Parkinson's

Deep brain stimulation is a helpful but invasive treatment for Parkinson’s disease that requires implanting electrodes deep inside the brain. At McGill University, Matthew Krause, a research associate, studies transcranial electrical stimulation. This technology delivers electrical pulses to the brain non-invasively. If the method Krause is investigating to deliver transcranial electrical stimulation works, many more people with Parkinson’s disease could benefit from this treatment.

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From Sleep Disorders to Parkinson’s disease


Lynne Krohn
PhD Student, Montreal Neurological Institute (McGill University)
Funded in partnership with Fonds de Recherche du Québec - Santé
Graduate Student Award
$10,000 over 2 years
Biomarkers

Up to 80 percent of people with REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder (RBD) develop either Parkinson’s disease or Lewy body dementia. At McGill University, PhD student Lynne Krohn has discovered genes that pose a greater risk for RBD. By screening genes and creating a risk score, she hopes to identify people at risk of RBD whose disorder might convert to the neurodegenerative diseases. Identifying people earlier could make them candidates for clinical trials when new treatments are being developed.

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Building mini-brains to understand the LRRK2 protein


Emma MacDougall
PhD Student, Montreal Neurological Institute (McGill University)
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years
Causes

At the Montreal Neurological Institute, PhD student Emma MacDougall is studying LRRK2, a protein produced by the LRRK2 gene that, when mutated, causes familial forms of Parkinson’s disease. MacDougall will alter stem cells from people with Parkinson’s disease so they take on the characteristics of microglial brain cells. By building a three-dimensional model including these cells – a mini-brain – and comparing them to 3D models of cells from healthy people, she’ll learn more about LRRK2’s function.

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DNA changes and Parkinson’s disease


Dr. Paulina Gonzalez Latapi
Clinical Fellow, University Health Network
Clinical Movement Disorder Fellowship
$50,000 over 1 year
Clinical fellowship

Understanding the way Parkinson’s disease works at the level of DNA and genes could provide researchers with important information about possible treatments. During a clinical fellowship at the Movement Disorders Clinic at Toronto’s University Health Network, Dr. Paulina Gonzalez-Latapi is also exploring DNA methylation, a process that changes the activity of certain genes, in people with inherited forms of Parkinson’s disease. Gonzalez-Latapi will use a statistical model to chart the relationship between these DNA changes and people’s cognitive and motor responses over time.

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Finding a drug to reduce involuntary movements


Imane Frouni
University of Montreal
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years
Complications

Although levodopa, the major treatment for Parkinson’s disease, works well in people for years, eventually those taking it experience involuntary movements and other side effects. At the Université de Montréal, PhD student Imane Frouni investigates whether blocking a protein in the brain’s glycinergic system can stop these debilitating movements and reduce psychosis, another side-effect of long-term levodopa use. If Frouni proves this drug is successful, adding it to L-dopa could improve people’s quality of life.

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Securing smell as a distinguishing symptom


Johannes Frasnelli
Professor, Université de Québec á Trois-Rivières
Pilot Project Grant
$45,000 over 1 year
Biomarkers

People who lose their sense of smell – but not their ability to perceive spiciness or freshness - are at high risk of Parkinson’s disease. At the Université de Québec á Trois-Rivières, Professor Johannes Frasnelli uses Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to study brain activity, and the connectivity and structure of particular regions of the brain. By determining how Parkinson’s affects the way the brain processes smell, he hopes to pave the way for early screening tools for Parkinson’s disease.

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The Tale of Two Proteins


Raphaella W.L. So
PhD Student, University of Toronto
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years
Causes

At the University of Toronto, PhD student Raphaella So investigates the role the cellular prion protein plays in Parkinson’s disease. She’s interested in how this protein interacts with alpha-synuclein, another key protein implicated in the death of the dopamine-producing brain cells whose loss results in Parkinson’s.

Understanding the role of the cellular prion protein could eventually identify another target for a drug to stop or slow the disease’s progression.

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Anxiety’s role in freezing of gait


Dr. Kaylena Ehgoetz Martens
University of Waterloo
New Investigator Award
$90,000 over 2 years
New Investigator Award

At the University of Waterloo, Assistant Professor Kaylena Ehgoetz Martens studies the role anxiety plays in freezing of gait. Up to 80 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease will eventually suffer from this disabling condition. Using virtual reality surfaces and scenarios, Ehgoetz Martens measures people’s physiological responses to situations prompting freezing, and their usual background anxiety, to assess the role it plays in freezing of gait. Ultimately, she hopes to find treatments and technology to interrupt or forestall this symptom.

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Protecting critical brain cells


Julia Obergasteiger
Postdoctoral Fellow, Laval University
Basic Research Fellowship
$80,000 over 2 years
Neuroprotection

Julia Obergasteiger, a postdoctoral fellow at Laval University, is studying a gene that may play a role in protecting the brain cells that die during Parkinson’s disease. If Obergasteiger can confirm the role a gene called Flcn plays in regulating the way cells dispose of damaged and unwanted material, that work could result in a new target for drugs or other therapies to protect the brain cells that produce dopamine. Dopamine is the key chemical messenger lost during Parkinson’s disease.

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Investigating vulnerable brain cells


Dr. Jean-Francois Poulin
McGill University
New Investigator Award
$90,000 over 2 years
Causes

Although researchers know the death of brain cells that generate the signalling chemical dopamine results in Parkinson’s disease, they don’t know exactly what triggers cell death. At McGill University, neuroscientist Jean-François Poulin has identified a type of more vulnerable dopamine neuron. He’s investigating the structure of these particular neurons to see why they die. Ultimately, pinpointing the reasons these neurons die will open an avenue to a new drug or therapy.

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The link with REM sleep behaviour disorder


Erind Alushaj
PhD Student, Western University
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years
Biomarkers

People with a disorder affecting their REM sleep cycles are at high risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. At Western University, PhD student Erind Alushaj uses Magnetic Resonance Imaging to investigate the iron levels and structural connections in the brains of people with REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder. If he can detect similar patterns in the brains of people with Parkinson’s and people with the sleep disorder, these scans could help diagnose Parkinson’s before it has done irreversible damage to brain cells.

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Helping people with Parkinson’s manage their care


Dr. Deepa Dash
Clinical Fellow, The Ottawa Hospital
Funded by Parkinson Society British Columbia
Clinical Research Fellowship
$100,000 over 2 years
Clinical Fellowship

Since Parkinson’s disease is chronic and progressive, people who have it must manage their care between visits to neurologists and other specialists. Dr. Deepa Dash is spending her clinical fellowship at The Ottawa Hospital testing the impact of an integrated care network for people in the intermediate stages of Parkinson’s. This network, managed by a specialist nurse, will connect people to community resources to help them address the symptoms that concern them most, hopefully improving their overall health.

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Modifying stem cells to treat Parkinson’s


Dr. Tiago Cardoso
Laval University
Funded by Pedaling for Parkinson’s in Prince Edward County
Basic Research Fellowship
$80,000 over 2 years
Treatment of Parkinson's

Stem cells have long been touted as a possible treatment for Parkinson’s disease. At Laval University, Tiago Cardoso, a post-doctoral fellow, is testing ways to improve stem cells before they could be transplanted in people with Parkinson’s. He’s using genetic engineering techniques to make the stem cells more prone to survive transplantation, and more efficient at connecting to other damaged areas of the brain to rewire it. If Cardoso’s work is successful, it would prepare the way for emerging treatments for Parkinson’s using these re-engineered, transplanted stem cells.

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The retina as a window into Parkinson’s


M Amin Banihashemi
PhD student, University of Toronto
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years
Biomarkers

At the University of Toronto, PhD student Amin Banihashemi studies changes to the retina for clues to changes in the brain in Parkinson’s disease. Changes in the retina, a structure in the eye, mimic those that occur in the brain as Parkinson’s progresses. By measuring these changes in the retina, Banihashemi hopes to estimate changes in the brain in Parkinson’s.

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How gut bacteria influence Parkinson’s disease


Dr. Silke Appel-Cresswell
University of British Columbia
Funded by Parkinson Society British Columbia
Pilot Project Grant
$50,000 over 1 year
Causes

Trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses live inside our gut, or digestive tract. At the University of British Columbia, Dr. Silke Appel-Cresswell, a neurologist and associate professor, is investigating the strains of bacteria present in the gut of people with Parkinson’s disease. These strains are different than those present in people who don’t have Parkinson’s. She hopes to open new treatment avenues by determining what bacteria are present and what they do, such as driving inflammation. Her work will deepen our understanding of how the disease likely starts in the gut for many people with Parkinson’s.

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Iron and oxygen in PSP


Gabor Kovacs
Professor, Tanz Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Disease & Rossy Progressive Supranuclear Palsy Centre, University of Toronto
Pilot Project Grant
$50,000 over 1 year
PSP (Progressive Supranuclear Palsy)

At the University of Toronto, Dr. Gabor Kovacs investigates the accumulation of iron in cells in an area of the brain where researchers believe Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) originates. Kovacs wants to pinpoint the specific kind of brain cells involved in PSP and the type of iron that accumulates in them, as well as the way iron-transporting proteins are involved in this progressive and deadly disease. His work could eventually open an avenue for a new drug or therapy to stop or slow PSP’s progression.

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Preventing the death of critical brain cells


Brian MacVicar
Professor, Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, University of British Columbia
Pilot Project Grant
$50,000 over 1 year
Neuroprotection

At the University of British Columbia, Professor Brian MacVicar is investigating the reason dopamine-producing brain cells die. He’s exploring the link between a large channel in the membrane of cells, called Panx1, and reactive oxygen molecules that occur in Parkinson’s disease. MacVicar discovered that activation of Panx1 causes cellular breakdown and cell death. Since the death of dopamine cells results in Parkinson’s disease, MacVicar hopes ultimately to find a drug or therapy to block this channel from opening, to prevent or slow down Parkinson’s.

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