The 2021-2023 cycle funds projects seeking to impact diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, quality of life, and biomarker development. For instance, Dr. Kevin Yen, from the University of Alberta, is studying the use of advanced imaging techniques to identify gait impairment, sometimes the most disabling symptom of Parkinson’s, as early identification and intervention are critical to improving quality of life. Ms. Pooja Ghandi, from the University of Toronto, is investigating the efficacy of the effortful swallow maneuver with the aim of improving swallowing safety in people living with Parkinson’s. Finally, Ms. Heidi Riek, from Queen’s University, is studying the development of an eye-tracking tool to diagnose and treat Parkinson’s disease, as the parts of the brain that control eye movement overlap with those affected by the disease.

Projects

Parkinson Canada and its partners are proud to support 17 new fellowships and student awards for the 2021-2023 research cycle, including:

  • 10 Graduate Student Awards
  • 5 Basic Research Fellowships
  • 1 Clinical Movement Disorders Fellowship
  • 1 Clinical Research Fellowship

Integrating neurotransmitter receptors and multi-modal brain imaging to improve treatment selection in Parkinson’s disease


Ahmed Khan
PhD Candidate, McGill University
Funded in Partnership with Québec Parkinson Network
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years
Complications

People living with Parkinson’s often have wide variations in their motor and cognitive symptoms but receive similar medication. At McGill University, Ahmed Khan, a PhD candidate, uses data from brain scans of people with Parkinson’s to create a computational model predicting how the disease will progress in each individual. He’s trying to determine the role of neurotransmitter receptors, the brain’s main signaling molecules involved in the disease. These models could give people a clearer picture of each individual’s treatment needs.

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Mitochondrial dysfunction and vulnerability to oxidative stress in induced dopaminergic neurons derived from idiopathic Parkinson’s disease patients


Ms. Emilie Legault
University of Montreal
Funded in Partnership with Fonds de Recherche du Québec -Santé
Graduate Student Award
$10,000 over 2 years
Causes

Details coming soon

Finding the missing genetic links in Parkinson’s


Eric Yu
PhD Candidate, McGill University
Funded in Partnership with Québec Parkinson Network
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years
Causes

Although researchers know genetics play a factor in the development of Parkinson's, they haven't yet uncovered all the risk factors in the human genome. At McGill University, PhD candidate Eric Yu, a geneticist, will investigate the role genes that get duplicated or deleted play in elevating the risk of Parkinson's. He'll also try to determine the effect of mutations in non-coding areas of the gene , to see if this non-coding DNA is associated with proteins linked to Parkinson's.

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Exercise as treatment


Mr. Jacopo Cristini
McGill University
Funded in Partnership with Québec Parkinson Network
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years
Treatment of Parkinson's

Sleep problems affect most people with Parkinson's, reducing their quality of life. At McGill University's Memory Lab, Jacopo Cristini, a PhD candidate investigates whether different types of exercise can improve sleep quality and slow down the progression of motor and cognitive decline in people with Parkinson's. If the people in his study experience improvements in sleep, associated with better motor and cognitive function, the results will potentially strengthen the evidence for exercise as an additional prescription to treat Parkinson's.

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The power of social connection


Esztella Vezer
PhD candidate, Ryerson University-Yeate's School of Graduate Studies
Funded in Partnership with Parkinson Society of British Columbia
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years
Quality of Life

People with severe symptoms from Parkinson’s may experience a high quality of life. At Toronto’s Ryerson University-Yeates School of Graduate Studies, Esztella Vezer, a PhD candidate, investigates whether social participation and social support affect the way people with severe Parkinson’s perceive their quality of life. Using questionnaires, Vezer will ask people to recount their social activities, describe their supports, and rank their quality of life. Her findings could inform the design of future programs and supports.

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Tracking eye movements to diagnose Parkinson’s


Heidi Riek
Queens University
Funded in Partnership with Parkinson Society of British Columbia
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years
Biomarkers

At Queen's University, PhD candidate Heidi Riek, a neuroscientist, is identifying patterns of eye movements in people with Parkinson's, those without Parkinson's, and people with other progressive brain diseases. Her goal is to create a tool so doctors can measure their patients' eye movements and compare them to these patterns. She hopes the process will enable doctors to tell if someone has Parkinson's, how far it has progressed, and if dementia is present, knowledge that can help inform treatment plans.

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Strengthening swallowing muscles to prevent choking and improve quality of life


Pooja Gandhi
PhD candidate, University Health Network
Funded in Partnership with Parkinson Society of British Columbia
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years
Treatment of Parkinson's

Weakening of the swallowing muscles in people with Parkinson's increases the risk of choking due to solid foods and liquids entering and potentially blocking their airways. At Toronto's University Health Network, Pooja Gandhi, a PhD candidate in speech and language pathology, uses an exercise-based approach to help people with Parkinson's strengthen their swallowing muscles. Following four weeks of intensive treatment, Gandhi hopes people she works with will be able to better protect their airways, clear food and liquids, and be able to eat and drink normally, improving their quality of life.

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Decoding a sleep disorder and Parkinson’s


Prabhjyot Saini
PhD Candidate, McGill University
Funded in Partnership with Québec Parkinson Network
Graduate Student Award
$10,000 over 2 years
Causes

Most people with a sleep disorder that causes them to act out their dreams eventually develop a progressive brain disease. For almost half of those people, the disease is Parkinson’s. But researchers don’t know why. At McGill University, Prabhjyot Saini, a PhDcandidate in human genetics, is analyzing the genetic code of people with REM sleep behaviour disorder (RBD). Isolating genetic variants will help researchers understand who's at risk of RBD, and what role the genes play in the link to Parkinson’s and other progressive brain illnesses.

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Mathematical modelling to help diagnose and treat Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s


Quadri Adewale
PhD Candidate, McGill University
Funded in Partnership with Fonds de Recherche du Québec- Santé
Graduate Student Award
$10,000 over 2 years
Biomarkers

Parkinson's and Alzheimer's are progressive brain disorders that are difficult to diagnose but share some symptoms. At McGill University, PhD candidate Quadri Adewale, a neuroscientist, has created a mathematical model integrating information from brain scans of people with Alzheimer's with data produced by screening more than 1,000 genes. By comparing his Alzheimer's model with a model for Parkinson's, Adewale hopes to discover common and unique genetic markers of the two diseases. The results could help diagnose each illness and develop personalized treatment plans.

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Longitudinal changes in the neurovascular response in a rat model of L-DOPA induced Dyskinesia


Mr. Sam Booth
PhD Candidate, University of Manitoba
Graduate Student Award
$20,000 over 2 years
Complications

Most people with Parkinson’s who take the medication levodopa eventually develop involuntary, erratic movements called dyskinesia. At the University of Manitoba, Samuel Booth, a PhD candidate, uses animal models to scan and map changes in blood flow and metabolism in the brain that occur early in the L-Dopa treatment course. Booth hopes to develop a biomarker to predict who is at risk for dyskinesia, as well as to open an avenue for preventing and treating these involuntary movements.

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Ultrasound stimulation to unfreeze gait


Jean-Francois Nankoo
Post-Doctoral Fellow, University Health Network (Toronto, ON)
Funded in Partnership with Parkinson Society British Columbia
Basic Research Fellowship
$100,000 over 2 years
Treatment of Parkinson's

Freezing of gait can be debilitating for people with Parkinson’s. At the University Health Network, Jean-Francois Nankoo, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow, uses low-intensity sound waves from an ultrasound machine to stimulate the cerebellum. This non-invasive treatment should further increase the activity of cells in the cerebellum, a part of the brain scientists believe tries to compensate during freezing. Nankoo hopes increasing the cells’ activity will correct the malfunctions in movement that Parkinson’s creates.

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Unblocking barriers to gene therapy


Dallan McMahon
Postdoctoral Fellow, Sunnybrook Research Institute
Funded in Partnership with Parkinson Society of British Columbia
$80,000 over 2 years
Treatment of Parkinson's

Delivering treatment directly to the areas of the brain that Parkinson's affects has so far proven difficult, in part because of blockage created by the blood-brain barrier. At Toronto's Sunnybrook Research Institute, neuroscientist Dallan McMahon uses microbubbles and ultrasound equipment to open the blood-brain barrier in mouse models. Once that barrier is open, substances that facilitate gene therapy can flow to the affected areas of the brain. The particular gene therapy being tested would trigger the transformation of support cells into new dopamine-producing brain cells.

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Understanding the molecular basis of α-synuclein strain interference


Dr. Surabi Mehra
University of Toronto (Toronto, ON)
Basic Research Fellowship
$80,000 over 2 years
Causes

Details coming soon

Mapping Brain Region-Specific CHCHD2 Protein Assemblies and Uncovering its Variant Contribution to Parkinson’s Disease


Dr. Mohamed Moutaoufik
University of Regina
Basic Research Fellowship
$100,000 over 2 years
Causes

Details coming soon

Integrative screens to uncover novel regulators of SNCA expression in the context of Parkinson’s disease pathogenesis


Dr. Konrad Ricke
University of Ottawa
$100,000 over 2 years
Causes

Details coming soon

Predicting gait problems


Dr. Kevin Yen
Movement Disorder Fellow, University of Alberta
Funded in Partnership with Parkinson Society of British Columbia
Clinical Movement Disorders Fellowship
$50,000 over 1 year
Clinical Movement Disorder Fellowship

Difficulty walking is among the most debilitating features of Parkinson's. At the University of Alberta, Dr. Kevin Yen, a neurologist, uses advanced MRI imaging to identify the areas of the brain linked to gait difficulties in people with Parkinson's. He hopes to develop a biological marker to predict which individuals will develop trouble walking, so clinicians can put supports in place for them earlier, improving their quality of life. Yen will also spend his fellowship year learning more about surgical options and other treatments for people with Parkinson's.

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Diagnosing mild cognitive impairment early


Dr. Biniyam Alemayehu Ayele
Clinical Fellow, University Health Network (Toronto)
Funded in Partnership with Parkinson Society of British Columbia
Clinical Research Fellowship
$100,000 over 2 years
Clinical fellowship

Identifying people with Parkinson’s who have mild problems with memory, judgment and reasoning before they develop dementia could open the door to potential treatments to slow or stop the progression of cognitive decline. At the University Health Network in Toronto, Dr. Biniyam Ayele, a neurologist, will spend his two-year clinical fellowship analyzing brain scans and correlating them with clinical tests. He hopes to identify structural changes in the brain and cognitive indicators that would provide a biomarker to diagnose mild cognitive impairment in those with Parkinson’s early.

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