Parkinson Canada researchers passionate about improving lives today and aiming for a cure tomorrow

PhD candidate Anita Abeyesekera is investigating how people with Parkinson’s hear their own voice in order to better understand the factors involved in the speech disorder associated with the disease.

Clinician scientist Dr. Michael Schlossmacher and PhD candidate Anita Abeyesekera are both working to improve the lives of people living with Parkinson’s and add to our knowledge towards an intervention that will one day allow us to stop it. Whether they are established experts, or just beginning their careers, Parkinson’s researchers count on funding from the Parkinson Canada Research Program to test new theories leading to larger studies and to discover a critical piece of the complex puzzle that is Parkinson’s disease.

At the Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa, Dr. Schlossmacher and his colleagues are testing the five elements of his new PREDIGT Score tool, which could be used to determine which healthy adults are most likely to develop Parkinson’s disease in later years. The five elements include: PD-specific genetic factors; exposure to environmental factors; interactions between the two that initiate long lasting tissue changes; gender; and the passage of time.

A $45,000, one-year, pilot project grant from the Parkinson Canada Research Program will enable him and co-investigators Dr. Tiago Mestre and Dr. Doug Manuel, to validate the PREDIGT Score, which has the potential to be used in larger clinical trials.

“Validating the PREDIGT Score would be transformative in several ways,” says Schlossmacher. “Accurately predicting PD based on an easy-to-calculate score would help us to identify at-risk persons and focus more on those factors that predispose people to the illness with the intention to try to modify them. In turn, this information could help direct future trials that seek to prevent the illness. Ultimately, we envision helping doctors and nurses identify, counsel and care for at-risk individuals with appropriate interventions.”

Dr. Michael Schlossmacher is validating elements of his new PREDIGT Score tool, which could be used to determine who is likely to develop Parkinson’s disease in the future.

At Western University in London, Anita Abeyesekera’s research could lead to new treatments for individuals experiencing speech disorders associated with Parkinson’s. Low speech intensity, also known as hypophonia, is the most common speech symptom experienced by individuals with Parkinson’s disease. She will be investigating whether the speech disorder is associated with the abnormal processing of what an individual hears into the creation of their speech (called sensorimotor integration deficit.) She will alter participants’ speech and analyze their response to the feedback to determine how this contributes to low speech intensity and other symptoms.

A $30,000, two-year, graduate student award from the Parkinson Canada Research Program enables Abeyesekera to pursue her research, which will contribute to our understanding of Parkinson’s disease, particularly the importance of sensory systems in speech disorders. Proving her theory could lead to new treatments to improve the speech, and quality of life, of people living with Parkinson’s.

“That’s what we’re passionate about as researchers,” says Abeyesekera, “improving treatments for the immediate benefit of individuals living with chronic disease and in time finding a cure.”

Parkinson Canada has great expectations for the 25 researchers receiving new grant, fellowship and student awards during the next two years. Each of them will advance our knowledge of Parkinson’s, a complex brain disease, as well as interpret and share their knowledge with other researchers and health professionals. Those receiving clinical fellowships will also treat individuals living with Parkinson’s. Many of these researchers will continue their connection with Canada’s Parkinson’s community

As of September 2017, Parkinson Canada is proud to support 25 new grants, fellowships and student awards*. These represent a total of $1,323,369 to support new research projects in Canada during the next two years. Including the eight research awards in their second year, and the 25 new projects, the Parkinson Canada Research Program will invest $1,643,369.

New awards include:

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

The Parkinson Canada Research Program has funded 528 research projects, totaling more than $27 million, since 1981.

*A detailed list of the 2017-2019 researchers, their project titles, affiliations and funding amounts can be found at www.parkinson.ca.

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

About the Parkinson Canada Research Program

Since 1981, the Parkinson Canada Research Program has invested more than $27 million in research that has expanded our knowledge of Parkinson’s disease. The 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.
  • Specialist training for clinicians to build capacity in high quality care for people with Parkinson’s.

The Parkinson Canada Research Program explores related disorders including: Multiple System Atrophy (MSA), Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), and other Parkinson’s conditions and the impact these diseases have on society.

Understanding how Parkinson’s spreads through the brain

Abid Oueslati, Assistant Professor

Abid Oueslati’s fascination with the brain began as part of his initial experiences with scientific research in France. Later, while pursuing post-doctoral studies in Switzerland, he began to tackle Parkinson’s disease as a bio-molecular puzzle whose solution could improve the lives of patients around the world.

One molecule in particular captured his imagination: the intricate protein known as α-synuclein, which can spread through the brains of Parkinson’s disease patients as the ailment develops. For Oueslati, who is now an assistant professor in molecular medicine at Laval University, this behaviour closely resembles that of another problematic protein, the notorious prion.

Scientists first identified prions about 20 years ago in the search for the causes of mysterious plaques that formed in the brain and broke down its network of connections, leaving an affected person or animal increasingly disabled. The culprit turned out to be these strange proteins whose molecular structures are folded in awkward patterns and move between brain cells to disrupt healthy tissue. Oueslati has seen a similar pattern to the way α-synuclein affects the brain.

“It makes plain the progress of the disease,” he says. “It’s opening up a new area of research into Parkinson’s disease because it shows a new mechanism. It also offers new opportunities for new therapies — stopping or at least reducing the disease progress.”

Parkinson Canada is supporting Oueslati’s work, which he regards as the initial building block that will help him establish an ongoing research program in this field. He received a two-year, $90,000, Pedaling for Parkinson’s New Investigator Award, from the Parkinson Canada Research Program.

“This is a tremendous help to jump-start this project,” he explains. “We’ll be able to collect data and publish the first conception of what we want to do.”

Among the most significant developments he anticipates will be a far more effective laboratory procedure for studying Parkinson’s disease in mice. Researchers currently try to mimic the condition by adding excessive amounts of α-synuclein into the brains of these animals, but the technique yields haphazard results. By applying a model of prion-like propagation, however, Oueslati has been able to use viruses to deliver the protein into the brain in a way that more closely resembles the advance of Parkinson’s.

“The problem today is one of reproducibility,” he explains. “Our purpose is to develop an accurate, simple, and controllable model.”

He is also taking stem cell samples from Parkinson’s patients and growing them in culture to learn more about genetic features that might be responsible for the condition in the first place.

“This is a new field,” Oueslati notes, “which could show the vulnerability of these cells to some kind of external event that leads to Parkinson’s.”

Read about other researchers recently funded by the Parkinson Canada Research Program by visiting the research section of www.parkinson.ca.

Your gift of stock offers tax benefits and supports research

A donation of publicly traded stock or securities is one of the easiest and most effective ways you can support Parkinson Canada. These types of gifts are a win-win opportunity for donors because they eliminate capital gains taxes and support Parkinson Canada with an influx of capital that can be used to increase funding for Parkinson’s research.

You can avoid the capital gains tax that you would normally have to pay if you sold the securities and then donated the proceeds. And Parkinson Canada will issue you a charitable tax receipt for the fair market value of the security on the date of transfer into our brokerage account. You can donate securities now, or as part of your estate planning.

How does it work?

Here’s an example of the benefits of donating stocks.

Consider a donor in the 46 per cent tax bracket (assuming a provincial tax rate of 17 per cent) who has already donated $200 this year to a charity (the first $200 of charitable donations allocates tax credits at a lower rate). Assume she donates stock worth $10,000, which is the current value of the shares with an adjusted cost base of $4,000.

Sell Shares and Donate the Cash Donate Shares Directly
Market Value of Securities $10,000 $10,000
Adjusted Cost Base (securities original cost) $ 4,000 $ 4,000
Capital Gains ($10,000 – $4,000) $ 6,000 $ 6,000
Tax on Capital Gains @ 46% tax bracket -$1,380 paid out in taxes $ 000
Tax Savings on Gift $ 000 $ 1,380

Chart Source: CIBC Wood Gundy

If you are thinking about making a gift of stock or securities to Parkinson Canada, we encourage you to seek independent professional advice from a tax specialist or your financial advisor.

To obtain the Guidelines for Transferring Assets and the Letter of Authorization From Donor to Broker and to explore the benefits of this type of giving, please contact Sue Rosenblat at 1-800-565-3000 ext. 3386, or PlannedGiving@parkinson.ca.

Find what you need at the new and improved Parkinson.ca website

Whether you are a person living with Parkinson’s looking for details about an upcoming education event in your community, or a caregiver looking for advice to help a family member, or you are newly diagnosed and seeking credible information about the disease and treatments, you’ll want to visit Parkinson Canada’s new website, launched this week.

Parkinson.ca is the central hub for Canada’s Parkinson community and a beacon for everyone touched by Parkinson’s. That includes people living with Parkinson’s and their family members, caregivers, health professionals, volunteers, employees, media, governments and the public.

The new website has the features you expect in today’s digital world, like clear navigation on both desktop and mobile devices. When you visit us online, it’s easy to take action, and find what you are looking for, based on your needs and your language preference. And it’s easy to get involved with Parkinson Canada in a way that’s meaningful to you.

Your input helped us build the new website to meet your needs. When we asked you what you wanted to see and do at Parkinson.ca, many of you responded during our year-long survey of website visitors. We are grateful to each of you who took the time to tell us what’s important. With your input, we set out to build the new Parkinson.ca website to:

  1. Make it easy for you to connect with Parkinson Canada and for us to connect with you.
  2. Gather information and your input to help us continuously improve our services to you and the Parkinson’s community at large.
  3. Provide you with information and services when you need them – beyond normal business hours.
  4. Provide easy access to Parkinson Canada’s online donation and social media platforms.
  5. Create an online community that demonstrates Parkinson Canada’s values and upholds its mission and vision.

Welcome if it’s your first time visiting Parkinson.ca. Welcome back if you have visited us before. Want to share your questions or comments?  Send your feedback to communications@parkinson.ca