Scientists working to cure Parkinson’s disease

Clinical scientists in Ottawa are examining the reliability of a tool which could one day be used to determine which healthy adults are most likely to develop Parkinson’s disease (PD) later in life, while other researchers in London, Ont. are looking into how to treat speech disorders associated with the disease.

Dr. Michael Schlossmacher and his colleges at the Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa are testing the five elements of his new PREDIGT Score tool. The tool could be used ascertain if certain healthy individuals are likely to have PD 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 Schlossmacher 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,” said 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.”

He said the information can help direct future trials aimed at preventing PD.

At the Western University in London, PhD candidate Anita Abeyesekera’s is looking into 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.

Abeyesekera’ 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,” said Abeyesekera, “Improving treatments for the immediate benefit of individuals living with chronic disease and in time finding a cure.”

Abeyesekera and Schlossmacher are among the 25 PD researchers receiving new grant, fellowship and student awards during the next two years from Parkinson Canada.

The grants and fellowships 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.

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 organization works with coalitions and community partners on a broad range of initiatives, to improve quality of life for the more than 100,000 Canadians who have Parkinson’s disease.

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