Parkinson Society Canada’s National Research Program investment surpasses $25 million

Louis-Éric Trudeau
Louis-Éric Trudeau

With the recent announcement of its 2015-2017 funded research grants and awards, Parkinson Society Canada’s (PSC) investment in its National Research Program (NRP) surpassed the $25 million mark. The program has come a long way since awarding the first research grant in 1981 of $150,000 to Dr. Clement Young of Toronto Western Hospital/University of Toronto. Since then, the NRP has funded 483 research grants and awards to Canadian researchers.

Parkinson Society Canada and its network of partners have great expectations for the 15 new grant, fellowship and student awards funded to advance our knowledge of Parkinson’s, a complex brain disease. One of the most promising of this year’s recipients is Louis-Éric Trudeau, a professor at the University of Montreal, who received a one-year pilot project grant of $44,250.

Neuroscientist Trudeau has identified a critical difference in the structure of brain cells. He found that dopamine-producing cells in the substantia nigra are much larger and consume much more energy than other cells. Trudeau thinks that this may be why they are more vulnerable than other cells to whatever process is killing the neurons in Parkinson’s disease.

“Like a motor constantly running at high speed, these neurons need to produce an incredible amount of energy to function. They appear to exhaust themselves and die prematurely,” said Trudeau. “For all major diseases of the brain, new therapies come after we know why the cells start to die,” Trudeau says.

Parkinson Society Canada is the largest non-government funder of Parkinson’s research in Canada; investing in science that explores most aspects of the disease, including: causes, complications, cognitive impairment, biomarkers, neuroprotection and quality of life.

We are currently funding 26 projects. Including 11 research awards in their second year, and the 15 new projects, the National Research Program is currently committed to investing $1,264,079. These latest awards represent a total of $924,090 committed to support new research projects* in Canada during the next two years as follows:

  • 5 Pilot Project Grants
  • 2 New Investigator Awards
  • 4 Basic Research Fellowships
  • 1 Clinical Movement Disorders Fellowship
  • 3 Graduate Student Awards

* A detailed list of the 2015-2017 researchers, project titles, affiliations and funding amounts can be found at www.parkinson.ca.

Parkinson Society Canada’s National Research Program invests in:

  • High-quality, innovative Canadian research by established and promising investigators.
  • Discovery-stage research where investigators test new theories and pursue promising new leads.
  • Researchers at the beginning of their careers in order to foster the next generation of Parkinson’s scientists.
  • Novel research to build greater capacity, promote creativity and engage more researchers.

You can be a Parkinson’s resource for your family physician – and we can help

parkinsons_resourceAs a person living with Parkinson’s disease, you are uniquely qualified to share your perspective, and important information, with your family physician and other members of your health care team, such as your pharmacist or physical therapist.  Keeping members of your health team well informed about your own state of health, as well as using and sharing the latest Parkinson’s resources from Parkinson Society Canada, will help ensure that you receive individualized care.

We have great tools to help you, your doctor and other health care professionals, as well as their other Parkinson’s patients, understand, treat and live with the disease. We suggest you and your physician begin with our online resources at www.parkinson.ca. There are sections specifically for people with Parkinson’s and for health care professionals. For those individuals without internet access, we operate a National Information and Referral Centre, which can be reached at 1-800-565-3000.

In addition, we want every physician to know about the Canadian Guidelines on Parkinson’s Disease, so don’t hesitate to share this resource created for health professionals by Canada’s leading experts on Parkinson’s disease. These guidelines, developed by Parkinson Society Canada (PSC), are available at no cost on the Parkinson Clinical Guidelines website, which also features our online learning module for health care professionals, accredited by the College of Family Physicians of Canada. This introductory module consists of practical case scenarios that professionals can work through to gain insight into key challenges in the treatment and management of their Parkinson’s patients. Your physician will receive continuing medical education (CME) credits for completing this learning module. Additional modules will be available in the upcoming year.

As you know, Parkinson’s is a progressive disease and your symptoms will change over time. Often changes are subtle and you may not notice them or think the changes are a result of the disease. We’ve developed a checklist that may help you identify these changes. Complete the checklist every nine to 12 months and discuss these changes with your doctor during your next visit.

Two of our booklets, a Guide to the Non-Motor Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease and Young-Onset Parkinson’s Disease, are available in two versions: one for physicians and the other for patients. Both booklets have questionnaires, logs and checklists – tools to help guide conversations with your physician. Your family doctor may wish to contact PSC for printed copies of the patient versions of the booklets to give to their other Parkinson’s patients.

Parkinson Society Canada is continually reaching out to health care professionals, through their professional associations and publications and by attending and presenting at their national conferences. Next month, our National Manager of Public and Professional Education will be attending the Family Medicine Forum, co-hosted by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, in Toronto. Thousands of physicians from across the country attend this annual professional development event and PSC will be there to share information and resources and answer questions.

“By reaching out to health care professionals directly, and providing them with relevant resources for themselves and their patients, we hope to elevate the standard of care for Canadians with Parkinson’s disease,” says Grace Ferrari, PSC’s National Manager of Public and Professional Education. “It is also our hope that more physicians will recognize the early signs of Parkinson’s, leading to an earlier diagnosis. The sooner treatment of symptoms begins, the better quality of life a person living with Parkinson’s can have.”

The next time you visit your doctor, or another member of your health care team, consider passing along this article to them. If you have their e-mail address, why not forward them this issue of e-Parkinson Post with a personal note, encouraging them to check out PSC’s health care professional resources before your next appointment.

Brain research partnership to transplant stem cells offers new hope for Parkinson’s

Computerized neuro-injector for stem cell grafting.
Computerized neuro-injector for stem cell grafting.

A research partnership between neurosurgery innovators at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) and cutting-edge stem cell researchers at Harvard, holds out new hope for people living with Parkinson’s. Dr. Ole Isacson, a Harvard professor, recently joined Dr. Ivar Mendez, Chair of the U of S surgery department in Saskatoon to announce their joint research project, which will eventually transplant dopamine-producing brain cells, through a state-of-the-art “micro-injector,” into the brains of 20 people with Parkinson’s disease.

Isacson, a neurobiologist, and Mendez, a neurosurgeon, have been collaborating for about a decade, and will unite their formidable expertise in a joint research project.  “The Harvard team is at the leading edge in producing clinical-grade brain cells for cell transplantation,” says Mendez.

Isacson’s team starts its work with the skin or blood cells of an adult patient. These cells are turned into stem cells and then transformed again into dopamine-producing brain cells.  “Because the cells originate from the patient, the body does not reject them. And we don’t need to use immuno-suppressing (anti-rejection) drugs, which can have many severe side effects,” says Mendez.

Isacson described Mendez’s neurosurgical team as “one of the most sophisticated,” in the world. Mendez, a pioneer who first transplanted fetal stem cells into patients’ brains at Dalhousie nearly a decade ago, is the only surgeon in Canada, and one of only a few in the world, who can perform the intricate procedure. And this time he’ll be using the latest technology in a computerized micro-injector to deposit the adult stem cells from the patient to within 0.3 millimeters of the target area, roughly the length of a grain of table salt.

“We program the parameters of the transplantation into the computer control of the device,” says Mendez, “such as the volume of cells, the rate of implantation and build the deposit using a 3D array to the exact location in the brain.”

Both teams of researchers will continue to study and test their respective parts of the research, with clinical trials set to begin in two to three years. Criteria will also be developed to select the most appropriate patient-candidates for the trial. All of the surgeries will be done by Dr. Mendez in Saskatoon, although the patients will be selected from across North America.

“We are very proud that this work will be done in Canada, with our multi-disciplinary team, including imaging, surgery, movement disorders specialists and many others,” says Mendez. Like deep brain stimulation surgery, patients will be awake, but experience no pain, during the surgery, which will take about three to four hours to complete.

Once the cells are transplanted, they will gradually begin to populate the brain, establish connections, produce dopamine and within about nine months, it’s predicted that Parkinson’s symptoms would be reduced. “While this would not technically be a cure for Parkinson’s, since we still do not know what causes Parkinson’s, it would be a huge advance in available treatment options,” says Mendez.

Computerized neuro-injector for stem cell grafting.
Dr. Ivar Mendez demonstrating the controls of the computerized neuro-injector.

“The ultimate goal is for the transplanted stem cells to reconstruct the brain circuitry that has been destroyed by Parkinson’s and restore some function to the individual,” Mendez said.

Parkinson Society Canada’s National Research Program funds innovative research that aims to unlock the mysteries of Parkinson’s disease. To find out more about currently funded projects, visit www.parkinson.ca