April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month

Published: 4 April 2013

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition related to the death of specific brain cells that produce dopamine, a chemical needed for brain cells to control muscular movement. In Parkinson’s disease, dopamine-producing cells stop functioning for reasons still unknown. There is currently no cure, but some drugs and clinical treatments can help control or minimize symptoms which include: uncontrollable tremors, slowness of movement, stiffness or rigidity, and loss of balance.  Parkinson’s disease affects many non-dopaminergic areas of the brain as well.  These areas are responsible for symptoms during early stages of the disease such as problems with sleep, constipation, blood pressure, sweating, depression, anxiety, as well as symptoms that cause disability in later stages.

Facts about Parkinson’s Disease

  • Physician James Parkinson first described the disease in 1817
  • About 100,000 Canadians have Parkinson’s disease
  • 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, and boxer Muhammed Ali

World Parkinson Congress to be held in Montreal

From October 1 - 4, 2013, leading experts on Parkinson’s disease from around the world will gather at the Palais des Congres in Montreal for the 3rd World Parkinson Congress. Dr. Stanley Fahn (Columbia University Medical Center), founder and president of the World Parkinson Coalition will co-chair the Congress with Dr. Jon Stoessl (University of British Columbia). Organizers invite people to video their stories about Parkinson disease and submit them in a video competition. Submission deadline is May 8, 2013, and winners will be announced on June 7. Details available at 

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 Movement Disorder Clinic treats patients who have various neurodegenerative diseases but a majority of patients at the clinic 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 clinic has 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:

Physicians and scientists at The Neuro conduct world-class research and clinical trials related to Parkinson’s disease:

Dr. Edward Fon, neurologist.  Dr. Fon is Director of the McGill University Parkinson Program and Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board, Parkinson Society of Canada.  He studies the molecular mechanisms that play a role in the degeneration of dopamine neurons.  His work focuses on parkin, one of several genes that were identified in the past decade that cause forms of Parkinson’s disease. Parkin functions as a key enzyme in the main protein degradation pathway in the cell. This pathway utilizes ubiquitin, a protein that can mark target proteins for degradation. Dr. Fon’s lab has been working on understanding the various functions of ubiquitin in the nervous system and on how defects in parkin could lead to Parkinson’s disease. His laboratory is providing 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. 

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 testing how to predict Parkinson's disease, particularly by studying patients with REM sleep behaviour disorder, which is a major risk factor for the disease.  He is also looking for ways to improve detection and treatment of non-motor problems, including clinical trials for treatments of sleepiness and insomnia.  He has ongoing studies for dance therapy in Parkinson's disease cases, and is initiating a large-scale study of caffeine for treatment of the disease.

Dr. Abbas Sadikot, neurosurgeon.  Dr. Sadikot is a specialist in the surgical implantation of Deep Brain Stimulators (DBS) in patients with Parkinson’s disease. The surgery involves inserting a tiny device into a patient’s brain which emits electrical pulses to the surrounding part of the brain, relieving the tremors and rigidity caused by Parkinson’s disease. The operation has the potential to return patients to full normal mobility. The Neuro acquired the O Arm Surgical Imaging System to further enhance DBS surgery, thanks to a $500,000 donation by BMO in 2011. 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. 

The Neuro
The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital — The Neuro, is a unique academic medical centre dedicated to neuroscience. Founded in 1934 by the renowned Dr. Wilder Penfield, The Neuro is recognized internationally for integrating research, compassionate patient care and advanced training, all key to advances in science and medicine. The Neuro is a research and teaching institute of McGill University and forms the basis for the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre.  Neuro researchers are world leaders in cellular and molecular neuroscience, brain imaging, cognitive neuroscience and the study and treatment of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and neuromuscular disorders. For more information, visit

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