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Music, movement and their connection in the brain

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Jessica Grahn

Neuroscientist Jessica Grahn already knows that listening to music helps people with Parkinson’s disease lengthen their strides and move faster as they walk, instead of freezing in place. What she doesn’t know is why music helps, and what regions of the brain it stimulates. A psychosocial research grant of $100,000 over two years, from PSC’s National Research Program will enable her to explore the possibilities.

Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), Grahn, an assistant professor at Western University’s Brain and Mind Institute in London, Ontario, is investigating the specific pathways and connections in the brain that link sound and movement, to pinpoint the regions of the brain that are involved.

Grahn will scan the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease while they are listening to their favourite music. At the same time, they will flex their feet on levers to move a representation of themselves through a virtual environment displayed via goggles.

“That’s as close as we can get to real walking while you are lying down in an fMRI scanner having your brain imaged,” says Grahn.

Grahn is testing the theory that music acts as an external timing cue to tell people when they should move; using motor systems in the brain that are unaffected by Parkinson’s to compensate for the systems that are damaged and impede movement and timing. Alternatively, music may trigger activity in the pleasure/reward centres in the brain. These reward centres may also be connected to areas of the brain that control movement, but were previously dormant until they were needed to compensate for depleted brain cells.

The brain scans will help Grahn and her colleague determine which pathways in the brain are involved for each individual – pathways that may differ depending on the individual’s music selections. They will also measure people’s gaits before and after listening to their chosen music.

The project’s goal is to optimize the use of music and particular songs, based on the brain activity Grahn observes, to see if that will get people to take longer strides and to move faster, to overcome freezing in place and preventing falls. Both freezing and falling often keeps people with Parkinson’s disease at home, afraid to go out and interact socially.

“Overall, we’re trying to improve mobility and independence,” she says.

If Grahn’s research is successful, it could provide physiotherapists and occupational therapists with some easy methods to help people with Parkinson’s socialize and enjoy a better quality of life.

Check out the profiles of the 27 other researchers and their projects, being funded by PSC’s National Research Program during 2014-2016.

Government takes a big step forward to address the needs of the Parkinson’s Community

05_CCDSS_-tracking-of-PD_Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) are adding Parkinson’s disease to the Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System (CCDSS). The decision to include Parkinson’s disease in the CCDSS is a result of Parkinson Society of Canada’s direct involvement in the recent National Population Health Study of Neurological Conditions. This welcome development will give researchers, medical practitioners and policy makers access to a wide range of substantive data on Parkinson’s.

“The decision to add Parkinson’s to the CCDSS indicates that our concerns are being taken seriously by policy makers,” says Joyce Gordon, President and CEO, Parkinson Society Canada. “And the valuable data collected and reported will enable all stakeholders to make evidence-based decisions in support of those living with the disease.”

The CCDSS, in partnership with the federal government and PHAC, is a database of provincial, territorial and federal administrative information, which includes data on physician billing, hospitalization and resident registry databases.

This database contains key medical indicators relevant to those living with Parkinson’s, dating back to 2000. PHAC has assured Parkinson Society Canada that the first report on these indicators will be available within five years, although it could be available sooner. The report and the data collected will foster greater dialogue and knowledge transfer about Parkinson’s in terms of public policy, clinical guidelines and research.

Parkinson Society Canada is looking forward to gaining access to the information in the first report and sharing the results with the Parkinson’s community. In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada to advance its understanding of Parkinson’s disease and the needs of Canadian’s living with Parkinson’s, their families and their care providers.

Community spirit helps Parkinson SuperWalk hit the 25-year mark

Amanda Mulder, à droite, avec son amie Nicole, se fait photographier lors de la Grande Randonnée Parkinson de 2014 à London, Ontario. Amanda a pris part à cet événement pour souligner la mémoire de son grand-père John Steenbergen.

Amanda Mulder, right, with her friend Nicole, pause for a photo during the 2014 Parkinson SuperWalk in London, Ontario. Amanda took part in honour of her grandfather John Steenbergen.


Back in 1990 when seven members of the Toronto (Ontario) Chapter held the first SuperWalk, it’s likely that they dreamed about bigger success in the future. Twenty-five years later, after steady growth, Parkinson SuperWalk inspires participation by more than 14,000 walkers and volunteers in more than 115 communities from coast to coast.

Thousands more Canadians sponsor walkers in support of Canadians living with Parkinson’s, raising funds for support services, education, advocacy and research. Last year’s SuperWalk raised more than $2.9 million. This year’s Parkinson SuperWalk has a nation-wide goal of $3 million and takes place on the weekend of September 12 and 13. National sponsors for 2015 Parkinson SuperWalk are Naturegg Burnbrae and Roots Canada.

We are very proud to be a long-standing community partner of Parkinson SuperWalk,” says Margaret Hudson, President of Burnbrae Farms. “We applaud the contributions of the everyday heroes who inspire hope in the tens of thousands of Canadians living with this disease, as well as their families and care givers.”

One of those everyday heroes is Amanda Mulder, 23, who hobbled through last year’s SuperWalk in London, Ontario on crutches, in remembrance of her grandfather John Steenbergen, who lived with Parkinson’s. He died in 2013 at 80 years of age.

“We had a special bond,” she says. “He understood me and I understood him. He was my rock, and I loved him more than I ever thought possible. He had Parkinson’s disease for 10 years and I saw how hard it was on him.”

Last year, Amanda raised $570 with the generous support of her family and friends. This September, she hopes to run the route in London, as long as her leg is fully recovered. And, she’ll be calling on the support of her family and friends once again to sponsor her efforts – or join her in the event.

Amanda received an added bonus for her efforts last year; she won one of the national draw prizes – a 60-inch Sharp AQUOS® LCD television. And while she’s enjoying the TV, her real prize has been supporting others living with Parkinson’s in honour of her grandfather.

“I hope that one day this disease will be non-existent. Seeing my grandfather having to deal with the challenges that a Parkinson’s diagnosis presents broke my heart every day and if I can help even in the slightest to make sure no one else has to face those challenges, I will do whatever I can.”

Another of our community heroes Hanif Balolia also had a grandfather living with Parkinson’s who, along with his mother and father, inspired him to get involved in Parkinson SuperWalk, both personally and as a business owner.

It was Balolia’s mother who was the hero. He remembers his mother flying to East Africa to visit and help care for his grandfather. “She would be there for long periods, sometimes months. I know she carried the family burden,” recalls Balolia. His father has also always encouraged him to give back to those who are less fortunate, with both time and money.

This year, Balolia’s firm AgeComfort.com will enter a corporate team in the Parkinson SuperWalk, and the company will donate prizes for the ‘Everyday Heroes’ contest, which launches online in June.

You can join Hanif and Amanda and become an everyday hero, inspiring hope for Canadians living with Parkinson’s as well as their families and care givers. Register today for a fun, family outing with a special purpose. Or contact your regional Parkinson Society office for local SuperWalk details.

End Of The Roll promotes Parkinson’s Awareness Month

Each month, End Of The Roll features a charity to spotlight. End Of The Roll has identified Parkinson Society Canada as their special cause during April, Parkinson’s Awareness Month. As a locally owned company in Canada, they truly care about the communities we both are a part of, and the families that make up those communities. End Of The Roll recognizes that when Parkinson’s disease affects one person, it affects the whole family and the community of people around that person.

End Of The Roll will be featuring Parkinson Society Canada throughout April on their website, blog and social media accounts to help raise awareness and funds to improve the lives of the tens of thousands of Canadians affected by Parkinson’s disease. Visit their blog to read more.

Message from the Editor

Marina Joseph, Editor

Marina Joseph, Editor

Welcome to the first issue of eParkinsonPost for 2015, marking a milestone. This year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Parkinson Society Canada (PSC), 50 years of providing support and education for people living with Parkinson’s, advocating on their behalf and funding research to unlock the mysteries of this complex disease.

Since the creation of the National Research Program (NRP) in 1981, PSC has invested more than $24 million in 450 awards, fellowships, and grants that have revealed more about diagnosing and treating Parkinson’s disease and advanced our knowledge towards a cure. In this issue, we highlight NRP funded researcher Jacques Drouin, D.Sc., who recently uncovered a mechanism regulating dopamine levels in the brain. This is quite a breakthrough in Parkinson’s research.

While we reflect on our history and accomplishments, we are committed to our vision for a better life with a brighter future for Canadians with Parkinson’s. We are currently asking individuals in our community to help improve access to the new Parkinson’s medication NEUPRO®. We ask you to consider joining our Parkinson’s Ambassador Network and lend your voice to improve quality of life for people living with Parkinson’s, their families and care partners.

We also rally our community to make sure Parkinson’s issues are being heard by all candidates, government representatives and policy makers. Recently, Parkinson Society Canada President and CEO Joyce Gordon, testified before the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights in support of Bill S-201, an Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination, and implement genetic fairness legislation. Issues of privacy and genetic discrimination were heightened last fall when the personal genetics company 23andMe began selling their service in Canada. We encourage you to find out what you need to know to protect yourself and your family.

Throughout the year, we will shine the spotlight on Parkinson’s pioneers across the decades. We hope you will post a comment, or contact us at communications@parkinson.ca to share your stories and tell us about some of the individuals who have made a difference in your Parkinson’s journey. Together, we are putting Parkinson’s on the map.

Putting Parkinson’s on the Map: Our first 50 Years

02_SINCE1965_SEAL_COLOUR_WEBSince 1965, Parkinson Society Canada (PSC), together with its regional partners, has reached into cities, towns and rural areas across the country to provide education and services, to lobby governments and create a National Research Program. We have truly put Parkinson’s on the map through heightened awareness and scientific discoveries, not only in Canada, but also around the world.

From our beginning as a single entity, the Canadian Parkinson’s Disease Association, we have grown to more than 250 chapters and support groups, working with regional partners from coast to coast. We are the national voice for Canadians living with Parkinson’s.

Then and Now

Throughout 2015, we will highlight our history, our accomplishments, and the pioneers who have moved the Parkinson’s cause forward. From leaders to front-line volunteers and from corporate supporters to researchers, thousands of dedicated people have helped raise awareness and improve the lives of those living with Parkinson’s.

One of those individuals was Dr. André Barbeau of Montreal, the internationally recognized neurologist who, in 1960, initiated research that demonstrated Parkinson’s resulted from a dopamine deficit. Dr. Barbeau was among the inaugural Directors attending the first meeting of the Canadian Parkinson’s disease Association in Toronto, along with the mayor Charles Mortimer, Q.C., and another Parkinson pioneer Dr. Ronald Tasker.

For more than four decades, levodopa has been widely available as the gold standard treatment for Parkinson’s disease. During this time, research into diagnosis, causes, complications and treatments has exploded. Research is incremental and methodical, and scientists are making headway to better understand the causes and progression of this complex disease, while moving closer to finding a cure. A subsequent issue of e-Parkinson Post will highlight some of the breakthroughs made by National Research Program funded researchers.

In 1981, PSC awarded the first research grant of $150,000 to Dr. Clement Young of Toronto Western Hospital/University of Toronto. Since then PSC has invested more than $24 million through the National Research Program to fund 450 awards, fellowships, and grants that teach us more about causes, biomarkers, neuroprotection, complications and treatments.

It’s been almost 200 years since James Parkinson wrote his 1817 Essay on the Shaking Palsy. Much of his essay commented on the lack of effective treatments available. In an article on Dr. Parkinson, author Dr. Patrick Lewis comments: “I think James Parkinson would marvel at the progress that has been made in diagnosing, understanding and treating the condition that now bears his name.”

We marvel too at the personal strength, courage and optimism demonstrated by Canadians living with Parkinson’s. And we are grateful for the ongoing support of our donors and volunteers who make our mission possible, including providing information and support through the National Information and Referral Centre, and educating the public and health professionals through webinars, websites, social media channels and publications. We advocate for social benefits, access to treatments, research funding and genetic fairness. We raise funds to invest in education, support groups and our National Research Program. We developed and distributed the first Canadian Guidelines on Parkinson’s Disease, written collaboratively by neurologists and movement disorder specialists from across Canada, with input from people with Parkinson’s, surgeons, family physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, and Parkinson Society Canada to provide a consistent standard for health care professionals to diagnose and treat their patients.

At the heart of every great discovery is a personal story. We hope you will connect us with other Parkinson pioneers that have made a difference to you and others. Throughout our 50th anniversary year, we would like to share these stories, memories and anecdotes of living with Parkinson’s with our audiences. Tell us about the changes you’ve seen or accomplishments you’ve witnessed. And tell us how Parkinson Society Canada has been there for you. Post a comment below this article, or get in touch at communications@parkinson.ca, follow us on Facebook or tweet us @ParkinsonCanada and we’ll follow up.

Researchers uncover a mechanism regulating dopamine levels in the brain

Jacques Drouin, D.Sc.

Jacques Drouin, D.Sc.

Researchers in Montréal, led by Jacques Drouin, D.Sc., recently uncovered a mechanism regulating dopamine levels in the brain by working on a mouse model of late onset Parkinson’s disease. The study, conducted in collaboration with Dr. Rory A. Fisher from the department of pharmacology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, was published online by the scientific journal PLoS Genetics.

Using gene expression profiling, a method to measure the activity of thousands of genes, researchers investigated dopaminergic neurons in the midbrain, which are nerve cells that use dopamine to send signals to other nerve cells. These neurons are known to degenerate in Parkinson’s disease.

“The present work identified a cell signaling component, Rgs6, that is also restricted to the sensitive neurons in the midbrain and that exerts a protective function, particularly late in life,” explains Dr. Drouin, Director of the Molecular Genetics laboratory at the IRCM (Institut de recherches clinques de Montréal). “We had previously shown that this gene is itself controlled by a particular protein, known as PITX3, which plays an important role in the survival of these neurons.

“Through our study, we discovered that a defective Rgs6 gene causes the death of these neurons,” adds Dr. Drouin. “More specifically, we found that when we remove the Rgs6 gene, this relieves a brake against excessive dopaminergic signalling. As a result, excess free dopamine accumulation causes cellular stress, which, in turn, causes the neurons to die. While the loss of Rgs6 function may predispose or contribute to Parkinson’s disease, its stimulation may provide a
new target for the development of drugs against Parkinson’s disease.”

Drouin’s research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and by Parkinson Society Canada. This latest discovery is built upon the results of an earlier pilot project to identify the genes targeted by PITX3, funded by Parkinson Society Canada’s National Research Program with a one year pilot project grant of $45,000.

Drouin got his first taste of the importance of research and what he calls “the beauty of proteins and what they do” when he was still in high school in Quebec City. He got a part-time job at a research lab at Laval University.

“That got me reading,” Drouin says. “That’s when I saw the first papers that described protein structure and linked them with their function. The fact that you could explain biology through the structure of proteins was quite startling to me.”

Drouin chose a research career in molecular genetics and biology because of his love for charting previously unknown scientific territory. He particularly enjoys discovering new structures in the brain, and the way different pathways work.

About Jacques Drouin, D.Sc.
Jacques Drouin obtained his Doctor of Science in Physiology from Université Laval. He is an IRCM Research Professor and Director of the Molecular Genetics research unit. Drouin is Research Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the Université de Montréal. He is also associate member of the Department of Medicine (Division of Experimental Medicine), adjunct professor of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, and adjunct member of the Department of Biochemistry at McGill University. In addition, he is an elected member of the Academy of Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada.


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All material related to Parkinson's disease contained in Parkinson Post is solely for the information of the reader. It should not be used for treatment purposes. Specific articles reflect the opinion of the writer and are not necessarily the opinion of PSC.