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.

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