April marks Parkinson’s Awareness Month, a time to acknowledge the tremendous strength and resilience of Canadians living with Parkinson’s disease and to celebrate the contributions of researchers, health professionals, family members, friends, and advocates who are supporting efforts to find effective treatments and to improve the care of people living with this disease.
In Canada, more than 90,000 individuals, age 40 and older, live with Parkinson, which includes Parkinson’s disease and conditions with similar symptoms. Parkinson’s disease itself is a progressive neurodegenerative disease caused by a loss of dopamine-producing neurons in parts of the brain responsible for movement. The primary symptoms are tremors, slowness of movement, muscle rigidity, and balance problems. The disease can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to function and their quality of life. While there are currently no treatments that can stop or slow the disease, there are drugs and therapies available to manage the symptoms.
Over the last five years, through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), our government has invested more than $72 million in research projects at universities and hospitals across the country. By supporting research, we are helping advance knowledge to improve the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. This funding is also supporting the participation of Canadian researchers in global research collaborations on Parkinson’s disease with leading scientists in other countries under the EU Joint Programme on Neurodegenerative Disease Research.
The good news is that through these investments from CIHR, researchers are making progress. A research team at the University of Ottawa recently discovered how a gene mutation leads to a specific form of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers at Western University and McGill University have developed biomarkers to permit the early diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. A research team at the Montreal Neurological Institute is harnessing advances in stem cell biology to explore new treatment approaches. Lastly, researchers at the University Health Network in Toronto are studying the therapeutic potential of non-invasive brain stimulation and neurofeedback. Those are just a few examples of the promising research happening in Canada.