April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month


 “Research into Parkinson’s disease here in Quebec is very strong, but the public doesn’t know it,” commented veteran Radio-Canada announcer Chantal Jolis on the popular Quebec TV show, Tout le monde en parle, in March 2011. Jolis was diagnosed with the disease in 2007 and subsequently underwent neurosurgery at The Neuro, which she said considerably improved her well-being.

Some facts that you should know

  • Approximately 100,000 Canadians have Parkinson’s disease.
  • Symptoms include uncontrollable tremors, slowness of movement, stiffness or rigidity, loss of balance.
  • Symptoms can appear in people in their thirties and forties, but more commonly appear around the age of 60.
  • Some famous personalities with Parkinson’s disease are actor Michael J. Fox, boxer Muhammed Ali, and veteran Quebec radio/TV host Chantal Jolis.
  • British physician James Parkinson first described the disease in 1817.

Parkinson’s disease attacks nerve cells in the brain that play a role in controlling movement. These cells produce a vital chemical called dopamine. Dopamine acts to signal the smooth, coordinated function of the muscles.  In the case of Parkinson’s, dopamine-producing cells stop functioning.  Typically by the time that a patient is diagnosed, some 80% of dopamine-producing cells no longer work. 

Parkinson’s disease has no cure yet, but a number of drugs and clinical treatments can help to control or to minimize its symptoms. 

Parkinson’s treatment at The Neuro:

The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital -The Neuro, is designated as a National Parkinson Foundation Centre of Excellence.  The Neuro’s Parkinson’s Clinic treats patients who have various neuromuscular diseases, but three out of four patients have Parkinson’s disease.  In the past decade, the Clinic has expanded and improved its services with the help of funding from Parkinson Society Canada.  One of the Clinic’s special programs addresses the needs of younger people newly diagnosed with the disease.

Professionals with many different skills are required to help manage this complex disease.  The Neuro’s Parkinson’s Clinic brings together a multidisciplinary team of neurologists, clinical nurse specialists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and social workers.  The Neuro’s patients also participate in clinical studies. 

Parkinson’s research at The Neuro:

The Neuro conducts cutting-edge research and clinical trials related to Parkinson’s Disease:

Dr. Edward Fon, neurologist.  Dr. Fon is Director of the McGill University Parkinson Program and the National Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease.  He studies the molecular mechanisms that play a role in the degeneration of dopamine neurons.  His laboratory’s research is providing important clues about how and why dopamine nerve cells die as a result of Parkinson’s Disease.  In a major discovery, Dr. Fon determined a molecular link between Parkinson’s Disease and defects in nerve cells that prevent cells from communicating.  His study provides insight into the molecular mechanisms underlying Parkinson’s Disease, which could lead to new therapies. 

Dr. Anne-Louise Lafontaine, neurologist.  As Director of the Movement Disorders Clinic, Dr. Lafontaine is responsible for implementing clinical trials of drugs for Parkinson’s Disease.  She is investigating a novel compound for managing symptoms at an early stage of the disease as well as at a more advanced stage.  She is also involved in a clinical trial for patients with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. Dr. Lafontaine is collaborating with Dr. Marta Kaminska, a respirologist, on the impact of sleep disorders on the well-being of patients with Parkinson's Disease.  She is also a collaborator on several brain-imaging studies that follow patients over a long period.

Dr. Lesley Fellows, neurologist.  Dr. Fellows studies complex human behaviour using techniques developed by cognitive neuroscience.  She is examining how Parkinson’s Disease affects impulsive behaviour, learning, and attention span.  Dr. Fellows is seeking to determine whether behavioural changes are due to the disease or to the medications used to treat the disease.

Dr. Alain Dagher, neurologist.  Dr. Dagher uses functional brain imaging techniques to understand how Parkinson’s Disease affects thinking and emotion.  His research could improve the treatment of cognitive and mood problems that severely affect patients’ quality of life.

Dr. Louis Collins, brain-imaging specialist.  Dr. Collins employs computerized image-processing methods using magnetic resonance imaging to identify brain structures non-invasively.  His techniques are essential in image-guided neurosurgical treatments of Parkinson's Disease.  Dr. Collins and his team have developed computerized tools and atlases that neurosurgeons use to plan and execute minimally invasive neurosurgical procedures.  These techniques enable better visualization of the surgical target and permit more accurate placement of deep brain electrodes that are used to stimulate certain areas of the brain for customized treatment of the symptoms in Parkinson's Disease.  

Dr. Ron Postuma, neurologist.  Dr. Postuma studies non-motor manifestations of Parkinson's Disease, particularly sleep disorders.  He is examining how to predict Parkinson's Disease, particularly by studying patients with REM sleep behaviour disorder, a major risk factor for the disease.  He is also studying variations of Parkinson Disease types and looking for ways to improve detection and treatment of non-motor problems.

Dr. Abbas Sadikot, neurosurgeon.  Dr. Sadikot works with his colleagues to design new techniques for image-guided neurosurgery.  His research interest lies in determining how the developing brain forms complex networks---information that can be used to develop new therapies for repairing the damaged nervous system.  He is particularly interested in cell and growth-factor replacement strategies. 

About the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital

The Neuro is an academic medical centre dedicated to neuroscience.  As a research and teaching institute of McGill University, The Neuro is at the centre of the neuroscience mission of the McGill University Health Centre.  The eminent neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield founded The Neuro in 1934.  Since then, The Neuro has achieved international renown for its integration of research, outstanding patient care and advanced training.  The Neuro has a world-class staff in cellular and molecular neuroscience, brain imaging, cognitive neuroscience, as well as in the study and treatment of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and neuromuscular disorders.  For more information, please visit www.mni.mcgill.ca.


Contact Information

Anita Kar
The Neuro
anita.kar [at] mcgill.ca