Tag Archives: research

That is correct, Alex

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image from famousfix.com

A 200 Year Old Mystery.

A chronic neurological disease characterized by movement disorders.

A complex medical condition with unknown origins and a wide variety of symptoms dependant on the individual.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

 

(camera pans out to Alex Trebek and the Jeopardy game set)

“Yes! That is correct! That is  the question we were looking for!” declares host Alex Trebek. “And now, for perhaps our biggest challenge to date, what pray tell, might be the cure for Parkinson’s? Or, perhaps at the very least, the next breakthrough in treatment for this horrible condition. Let’s meet our new contestant….”

Suspenseful music builds. Drama ensues. Who will be revealed as the next Jeopardy contestant?

“We’ll be right back after these commercial messages”…

 

Interesting news coming out of Toronto and the Toronto Western Hospital (TWH) Movement Disorders Clinic (where I happen to be a patient).

Those of you who follow the popular game show Jeopardy in the U.S. will know that a few years ago, IBM built a computer to understand answers on Jeopardy and come up with the right questions. They gave this new “contestant” the moniker of Watson (think Sherlock Holmes’ “Elementary, my dear Watson”!). Since his appearance on the game show in 2011, IBM has expanded Watson’s talents, building on the algorithms that allow him to read and derive meaning from natural language. The computer system can pore through documents millions of times faster than any human. Among other functions, IBM adapted Watson for use in medicine.

TWH is the first hospital in Canada to use Watson for research in Parkinson’s. The centre has a track record of running clinical trials for off-label drug use, which means taking a drug approved for treatment of one condition and repurposing it for another. Researchers here believe Watson can help them speed up this process to find a cure for Parkinson’s.

This all began about a year ago when one of the patients at TWH, Jonathan Rezek, a 56-year-old IBM executive, pitched the idea during an examination with his doctor at the centre. As he noted, “Parkinson’s is a really slow moving disease. It’s hard to do research on it. So anything you can do to make research go faster is a positive.”

Rezek’s story, and the interesting trail that led to this unique deployment of Watson’s abilities, have been told in a April 15 2017 Toronto Star feature article  Can Watson, the Jeopardy champion, solve Parkinson’s?.  The article tracks the early development of Watson over 10 years ago as somewhat of a game-show novelty cum corporate data management promotional tool to an important medical research tool. Watson has, it is noted, ” the potential to manage the exploding increase in digital information, including electronic patient records and the thousands of scientific studies published every day.”

Here’s a brief excerpt on how Watson is being deployed in Toronto to tackle PD:

…(Watson) doesn’t know what to look for on its own. Doctors and scientists have to “train” Watson. In this instance, he was tasked with reading more than 20 million summaries of scientific studies that were available free online…researchers trained him to look for any mention of alpha-synuclein, a common brain protein that clumps together in Parkinson’s patients, an action that scientists think causes the disease. Watson then looked in the same text for a mention of an approved drug in Ontario.

“It really is the most simplistic strategy,” says Tom Mikkelsen, president and scientific director of the Ontari Brain Institute. “What it is looking for is the statistical nearness of the words.”Watson ranked the list of 52 drugs from best to worst… 21 of the drugs are worthy of further study, and of those, 16 had never been linked to Parkinson’s before. “I was asked the question one time, how would you approach this same problem that you’ve posed to Watson without Watson,” says (researcher) Visanji. “And the answer is we wouldn’t have. We couldn’t have physically done it.”

It’s a shortcut that could shave years off approval of a new drug to treat the disease, a process that typically takes at least a decade and costs millions of dollars. Typically, one in 10,000 drugs studied in the lab will make it to a clinical trial, a drop-off that scientists call the Valley of Death. “If there’s something out there that’s already gone through its toxicology testing; that’s gone into humans; that’s completely safe … then bingo,” says Visanji. “Why would you look for something else?”…

The next step for the team at Toronto Western, if they can find another $300,000 in funding, is to take Watson’s list of drugs and narrow the search even further. Scientists can look at patient data in Ontario to see if the incidence of Parkinson’s is lower in people on any of the 52 drugs, which could mean the drug is beneficial in some way. They’ll also test the best 20 or so candidates in the lab to see what effects they have on alpha-synuclein aggregation. The best candidate will be chosen for the off-label clinical trial. “You could get a clinical trial up and running in six months after we’ve picked the best candidate,” says Visanji. “I see this as something that could happen. It’s a reality. I really hope it does come from this. “And if it does, the short cut is insane.”

 

Crazy, eh?! Exciting stuff happening here! Cue the music…back to you Alex! Time to introduce our next contestant! All the way from Toronto, Ontario, Canada – Watson!! (Author’s note: I hope this is the right link…I’m still struggling with this new technology!) Click here and play!

 

 

 

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this ain’t me in grade 9, baby

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Photo by John Rennison, The Hamilton Spectator

In the news today, from my former hometown Hamilton, Ontario, comes a great story about seeking clues for the development and treatment of Parkinson’s Disease. Hamilton is well known for its excellent health facilities and research intitatives though, in Canada, it has not been a hub for PD. It was a surprise to discover this research emanating from “The Hammer” but even more I marvelled at the source – a 9th Grade student, Anika Gupta, of Westdale Secondary School!

That is correct. A Grade 9 student. I don’t know what you were doing in Grade 9 dear reader but winning a Science Fair or conducting scientific research were nowhere on my radar (unless of course you call trips to Quebec to smuggle and sample large quarts of beer research). Having a father who is a Professor in Biology at McMaster certainly may have sparked her interest and provided her with a good foundation and good genes, but this doesn’t diminish her own accomplishments in the least.

Using a tiny species of roundworm as her model, Gupta’s research showed that a certain gene in the roundworm and a certain small chemical compound were able to protect the same types of nerve cells that are damaged when a person develops Parkinson’s. She’s now working with a McMaster professor of chemical engineering in the early stages of developing a nasal spray that could deliver the chemical compound to the brain to perhaps delay onset of the disease.

Great stuff Anika! When you have they time, let me buy you a beer to congratulate you! I am well versed on some of the more intriguing and hearty craft lagers from Quebec.

To read the full article on Anika Gupta’s work, click here.

The __________ Challenge

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image from awakeearly.com

Ever since the ALS “Ice bucket” challenge went viral in 2014, raising millions for research into Lou Gehrig’s Disease, it seems every charitable organization has tried to follow suit. As someone who worked in the non-profit health and social services sector for a number of years, I can appreciate and recognize the tremendous need for funds for a variety of purposes – including education, research and service delivery. It’s a sad commentary that we have come to rely so heavily upon individual philanthropic efforts to fill a void in social responsibility.

I never really did get the “ice bucket” challenge. But that didn’t matter.  I did know a few people who were diagnosed with ALS and it did give me a sense of what a wicked disease this is. It was great to see this fundraiser take off and be so successful. I hope it translates into positive advancements in combating ALS.

Meanwhile, other charities and foundations are cuing up to find the next ice-bucket challenge. Parkinson’s organizations are no exception. In the last few years, I’ve seen a variety of attempts to launch the equivalent for PD including:

  • milk shake challenge – make a video of yourself making a milk shake and post on-line (milk shake – get it? You shake the milk kinda like you shake with PD tremors. The only part of this campaign that might have appealed to me was drinking a milkshake which you don’t do.
  • Shake-it-off challenge – featuring dancing and singing to Taylor Swift’s popular “shake it off” song. Popular no doubt with young girls aged 12-15 no doubt but a populous choice? I’m not so sure.
  • Pie-in-the-face challenge – post video of yourself taking a cream pie in the face for Parkinson’s. Huh??

I’m sure there are others. While these may have met with some success in certain regions, none has “caught fire”and spread nationally or internationally. I don’t know if there will be one that strikes a chord like the ice bucket challenge did. But kudos to a group from Australia who have taken a different approach to this whole “challenge” phenomena.

Remember the Mannequin Challenge that took off a few months ago?  It started at at a high school in the US  where video participants took and held positions without movement while the camera weaved in and around the mannequin-like participants. Other schools, sports teams, celebrities – even Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama – got in on the act.

Well this Australian group – Parkinson’s NSW – recently took on the mannequin challenge with a difference.They have made a video that illustrates some of the disease’s symptoms and challenges. Since the premise of the mannequin challenge involves standing perfectly still (something people with PD cannot do) the message is clear. “Until there’s a cure, life is our challenge,” reads the title card at the end of the video.

Life is our challenge. That’s an appropriate challenge for Parkinson’s.

 

 

 

In debt? Having difficulties making ends meet? No worries! You too can profit from Parkinson’s! (or Ka-ching. ka-ching Part Two)

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Salesman, KateHodges, deviantart

My Google news alert coughed  up a doozy this morning. The headline read :

“Parkinson’s Disease Therapeutics Market Research Report Now Available at Research Corridor” The Republic of East Vancouver.October 7, 2016

The body of the article goes on to say that a group called Research Corridor has published a new study titled “Parkinsons Disease Therapeutics Market – Growth, Share, Opportunities, Competitive Analysis and Forecast, 2015 – 2022″. There’s not much content in the balance of the post but the reader is invited to “browse the report” via a link which I am graciously including at absolutely no cost to you here! Upon following this link,you may be so grateful that you will want to pay me for the tip but please consider it a Canadian-Thanksgiving-gift from me to you!

Should you not have the opportunity to visit the aforementioned site, let me give you the essence. For a mere 4,000 USD, you can get a subscription of sorts that will allow you to actually get the report wherein, presumably, you will be able to access data that has been compiled from, likely though not necessarily only, public data sources and neatly re-packaged under the a PD label, to support sales and marketing to the PD community.

Whoa. Wait a minute. That’s news?! Parkinson’s is an awful disease. There’s a growing PD population. It’s worldwide. How can we make some money off of this?  And how can we as Research Corridor make money off of those who want to make money off of people with PD? I, for one, am not buying (even if I could afford it 🙂 ).

Sell, sell, sell.

Happy Thanksgiving for all those celebrating this weekend!

 

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anyone see MJFF and Nike’s latest?   as Neil said, “ain’t singing for Pepsi”.

 

 

 

More PD in last 30 years

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photo montage by pixabay.com

From time to time, I’ve wondered if it was just me or my perception that more and more people are being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I must admit that I have not spent a lot of time researching this but let’s just say that my eyes have “perked up” of late with developments in this regard.

Parkinson’s Disease was diagnosed almost 200 years ago. It was first described by English physician Dr. James Parkinson in his work entitled An Essay on the Shaking Palsy (1817). Until relatively recently, however, it has not received much attention with respect to medical research on care, treatment, prevention, or cure. In the past few decades, research has received a tremendous boost from organizations like the Michael J Fox Foundation and National Parkinson’s Foundation. Yet this “spurt” of activity, means that we do not have a long history of enquiry to which we can turn. We have very few studies that inform us of the cause for, or the development of, Parkinson’s over a long period of time.

That may be changing. In late June 2016, results of a study in Minnesota were reported on in JAMA Neurology by a group of researchers out of the Mayo Clinic. See a report of it here or to access full study, click here.

Now, before I go further, regular readers of this blog may be asking “Where is the humour in this piece? If I click on the aforementioned links, will one of them lead to a funny picture or some witty story?”. No, I’m afraid not today. The links lead to reports on actual research.. Today’s blog entry is pretty dry. I just couldn’t liven it up 🙂 If you’re still looking for a laugh, perhaps try here. Back to the research…

The study looked at trends in the incidence of parkinsonism and PD over 30 years in a geographically defined American population. While this may be considered a “typical” population, the authors warn about trying to extrapolate too much from the data as the population may not have been as diverse as, or have been exposed to different contributing factors, as other communities.

That being said, I find it interesting that we are getting a bigger picture of this disease. This is the first study to show an increasing trend in recent years in the development of PD. In particular, it is reported that men of all ages had a 17 percent higher risk of developing parkinsonism and 24 percent higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease for every 10 calendar years. The study also showed that men 70 and older had an even greater increase—a 24 percent higher risk of developing parkinsonism and 35 percent higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease for every 10 calendar years. The results for women were similar but not as conclusive.

“We have reasons to believe that this is a real trend,” says Rodolfo Savica, M.D., Ph.D., lead author and neurologist at Mayo Clinic. “The trend is probably not caused merely by changes in people’s awareness or changes in medical practice over time. We have evidence to suggest that there has been a genuine increase in the risk of Parkinson’s disease”. The researchers point to environmental and lifestyle changes as potential causes for the increase.”There has been a dramatic change in exposure to some risk factors in the United States,” Dr. Savica says. “We know that environmental agents like pesticides or smoking or other agents in the environment have changed in the last 70 years or so. Changes in exposure to a number of risk factors may have caused Parkinson’s disease to rise.”

This is an important piece of the PD puzzle – we need not only to confirm if this same trend is replicated elsewhere but indeed to understand what causes Parkinson’s Disease in the first place. I don’t suspect we’ll have to wait another 200 years to move this forward.