Total Investment – $120,000

Graduate Student Scholarship Program – $20,000 – $25,000

Brooke Shepley, University of Windsor

Integrative Vascular Effects of Photobiomodulation on Cognitive, Physical and Cerebral Neurovascular Function in Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is increasingly prevalent, affecting ~170 per 100,000 Canadians annually. Currently, there is no cure for PD, warranting the investigation of potential new therapeutics. Photobiomodulation (PBM) is a low-level light therapy that has been proposed as an alternative treatment for neurodegenerative diseases, such as PD. PBM tenably operates through improvements in cerebral mitochondrial function thereby targeting physiological detriments, as opposed to dopamine replacement which operates primarily through symptom management. A pilot study investigating the implications of PBM on non-specific dementia demonstrated improvements in cognitive functio and motor control compared to the placebo group. However, no study to date has examined the functional cerebrovascular and neurovascular outcomes of PBM in humans. Ultimately, there is a lack of data regarding the efficacy of PBM, particularly for the use of treating PD. Accordingly, our study aims to attain pilot data to complete a full randomized control trial. The objectives of the study are to determine the effects of PBM in patients with PD on (1) cognitive function; (2) motor function; and (3) cerebrovascular function. In our double-blind cross-over study, participants will be assigned to both the treatment and placebo groups. To determine whether there is a difference in receiving PBM compared to placebo, participants will undergo a series of cognitive, neurovascular, cerebrovascular and physical assessments to determine their respective functional status. These data will provide insight on the potential use of PBM as an alternative therapy for PD.

Olivia Crozier, Western University

Enhancing Participation: Parkinson’s Education Program Evaluation

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative condition affecting thousands of individuals each year. Due to the diverse set of symptoms and the progressive nature of the disease, individuals with PD may require ample support from local healthcare facilities, healthcare providers and informal carepartners (e.g., a family member or close friend). Because of the demands of the informal carepartners role, it is common for the carepartner to experience a variety of negative health impacts, including high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many support programs for individuals with PD and their carepartners were put on hold or shifted to an online format. Although pivoting to an online format may serve as a viable solution, it may not meet the personalized needs of all participants and may result in diminished participant engagement. Thus, in an effort to enhance the efficacy of support available for individuals with PD and their carepartners, we will conduct a two-phase research study involving an evaluation of educational programming currently being delivered at a local hospital. Phase 1 will explore gaps in programming through interviews with service providers, individuals with PD and their carepartners. Phase 2 will utilize the interview data to improve current programming as a means to address the emergent gaps. Ultimately, this research will aim to enhance current support for this population by providing new approaches to educational programming tailored to support both individuals with PD and their carepartners, to decrease burden and to increase resiliency.

Yusheng Zhao, University of Waterloo

Investigating the Mechanisms of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a complex brain disorder that generally affects the elderly population. It is a debilitating disorder which affects the daily lives and routines of patients as they experience challenges in walking and talking, coupled with muscle stiffness, impaired balance and behavioural changes. More than 100,000 Canadians are affected by PD and these numbers are expected to rise in the coming years. Current therapies to treat PD provide symptomatic relief and are not effective as long-term therapies. This suggests that there are other factors involved in PD. One of them is a protein called alpha-synuclein. This protein is known to accumulate and form glue-like aggregates in the brain. These alpha-synuclein aggregates are known to be neurotoxic and are known to promote degeneration of brain cells. Recent evidence suggests that preventing the formation of these neurotoxic protein aggregates has the potential to treat PD. However, the mechanisms that lead to the formation of alpha-synuclein protein aggregates are complex. My research aims to fill this knowledge gap by discovering novel tools that will be used to study and understand the mechanisms of protein aggregation. My research uses a combination of computational modeling, chemistry, biochemistry and cell culture-based studies to identify new molecules that can prevent the aggregation of alpha-synuclein protein aggregates and reduce their toxicity to brain cells. It is anticipated that my research will lead to the development of a novel class of molecules that can be used to study the mechanisms of PD and discover innovative treatment strategies.

Tian Ip, Wilfrid Laurier University

A Study of the Efficacy of IAMT as an Assessment Tool for Prediction of Progression of Parkinson’s Disease

This research project will examine the efficacy of Improvised Active Music Therapy (IAMT) as an early novel tool for cognitive and motor assessment for individuals with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in neurological rehabilitation. There are no mixed method comparative studies done in music therapy, on clinically meaningful predictors of the progression of PD into Parkinson’s Disease Dementia (PDD), or Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB), in terms of motor phenotype as Tremor Dominant (PDTD), Mixed (PDM), or Postural Instability and Gait Disturbances (PIGD). A dynamic musical assessment of individuals with PD can potentially link the motor coordination, cognitive abilities and the intent required for the playing of musical instruments. In IAMT methodological system in neurological rehabilitation, participants play on an electronic drum set , following the music played by the music therapist. The music content is digitally recorded via Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) as numerical binary code capturing specific parameters, such as note count, striking force and synchronicity for statistical and visual analysis. We propose that variations in how participants play music can be used as a reliable and feasible cognitive and motor assessment tool to detect the early stage progression of PD to PDD or LBD and distinguish motor phenotype as PDTD, PDM, or PIGD . We will utilize a mixed-method to analyze the quantitative data from MIDI and conduct qualitative debriefing interviews measuring the participants’ music-making experiences. Ultimately, music measures correlating to an individual’s cognitive and motor outcome will enable us to detect those at higher risk of further mobility and cognitive decline.

Sarah Kearsley, Western University

Temporal Interference Stimulation in the Rhesus Macaque

Deep brain stimulation is a useful technique for clinicians and can be used to help improve symptoms of various neurological diseases, including Parkinson’s disease. Deep brain stimulation involves implanting an electrode deep into the brain. This procedure has a small but serious risk of complications. Recently, a new stimulation technique, called temporal interference stimulation, has been developed. In mice, temporal interference stimulation was found to target deep brain structures without activating the overlying brain regions. This technique involves using two electric fields that on their own do not affect brain activity. However, within a small region of the brain, where the two fields interact in an ideal way, the interaction of these fields can influence brain activity. While the work in mice is promising, whether it will work in humans is unclear, given differences in brain size and skull thickness. A new variation of this technique called multipolar temporal interference stimulation, uses additional pairs of electric fields to increase the strength of stimulation, which may overcome the differences in brain size and skull thickness. Using a combination of computational and experimental techniques, my research aims to investigate whether multipolar temporal interference stimulation will be feasible in humans. If so, this new stimulation technique may hold promise as a new treatment technique for people living with Parkinson’s disease.

Thank you to our Research Partners

For someone living with Parkinson’s, research provides hope and is the key to finding a cure! PSSO is proud and thankful to partner with Equitable Life of Canada, Mitacs and Western BrainsCAN. When we partner together, great things happen!