Where do the fundraising dollars go?

As a result of the success of the rides hosted by Peter Istvan and David Newall in Parry Sound, Ontario, Parkinson Canada created a Pedaling for Parkinson’s Research Grant. Through the success of their final event in July of 2018, with over $700,000 raised, a commitment has been made to name a grant in honour of Pedaling for Parkinson's through 2027. Parkinson Canada continues its commitment to ensure that 100% of net proceeds generated by riders during Pedaling for Parkinson's go towards this grant and the Parkinson Canada Research Program, supporting some of the best and brightest minds in Canadian Parkinson's research.

You can learn more about the Parkinson Canada Research Program and other funded projects on Parkinson.ca.

Quote from Debbie Davis, Past Managing Director Ontario and Vice President, Mission:

Parkinson Canada is the only organization that specifically funds Parkinson’s research in Canada. The Parkinson Canada Research Program invests in Canadian research from the ground up - starting with the discovery stage - funding only those projects that meet a standard of excellence and that are relevant to Parkinson’s. Our approach to funding means that rather than awarding a limited number of large projects, we fund a larger number of smaller grants to researchers working on a wide variety of projects. The result is more researchers exploring novel ideas, providing a crucial foundation for advancing knowledge, improving treatments, developing potential therapies, and ultimately finding a cure. Funds raised through the Pedaling for Parkinson’s event will fund, in their entirety, two of these research projects, as part of six projects funded throughout its lifetime, in Ontario that have met the standard of excellence applied by the Scientific Advisory Board”

Our Greatest Success Story (to date)

Dr. Scott Ryan was awarded a Pedaling for Parkinson's Grant in 2014, details and his breakthrough findings follow:

Pedaling for Parkinson's New Investigator Award: Dr. Scott Ryan. Dr. Ryan's research will target mitochondrial defects in a human stem cell model of Parkinson's. Read more about Dr. Ryan's research.

Pedaling for Parkinson's Clinical Movement Disorders Fellowship (2014-16): Dr. Camila Henriques de Aquino. Dr. Henriques de Aquino's research will aim to improve Phase IIa clinical studies of new treatments for Parkinson's (using intravenous levodopa).

2018 Update: Dr. Scott Ryan

Dr. Ryan and his team at University of Guelph have recently published results in Nature Communications. Says Ryan of his findings, "Identifying the crucial role cardiolipin plays in keeping these proteins functional means cardiolipin may represent a new target for development of therapies against Parkinson's disease," said Ryan, a professor in U of G's Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. "Currently there are no treatments that stop nerve cells from dying.”. The U of G researchers found that while cardiolipin in mitochondria pulls synuclein out of toxic protein deposits and refolds it into a non-toxic shape, in people with Parkinson's disease, this process is overwhelmed over time and mitochondria are ultimately destroyed, said Ryan. "As a result, the cells slowly die. Based on this finding, we now have a better understanding of why nerve cells die in Parkinson's disease and how we might be able to intervene." Read more on his project and the recent publication.

2016 Update: Dr. Scott Ryan

While little is known of the combination of genetic and environmental factors that trigger PD, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that agrochemical exposure (i.e. pesticides) is linked to disease etiology. Dr. Ryan's group has identified a pathway inactivated by both pesticides and disease mutations that represents a new target for drug development.

They are exploiting these findings to screen and characterize new drug candidates for therapy development.

2019 Grant

In 2019, the first year of the Prince Edward County ride, more than $125,000 was raised. With the success of this new event, and ongoing commitments from the Parry Sound ride three new grants have been awarded in 2019.

Dr. Ji Hyun Ko, New Investigator Award (2 Years) funded by Pedaling for Parkinson's (Prince Edward County)

Validation and calibration of the PREDIGT score to predict the incidence of Parkinson’s in healthy subjects

Deep brain stimulation is a treatment to reduce the tremors, stiffness and slowness associated with Parkinson’s disease by placing electrodes that deliver electrical currents deep inside the brain, reactivating areas where the circuitry for motor control is damaged.

Although effective in reducing these motor symptoms, deep brain stimulation requires surgery and does not improve the reasoning, judgment and memory deficits that Parkinson’s can also produce.

At the University of Manitoba, neuroscientist Ji Hyun Ko is exploring the use of another, less invasive form of brain stimulation to treat those cognitive symptoms. He’s focusing on the damaged circuits in an area deep within the brain called the caudate nucleus, which researchers believe is key to cognition.

"Parkinson’s disease is about circuits. That to me was very interesting, because I can model the problem and as an electrical engineer, if I can model the problem, I can solve the problem as well" says Dr. Ko.

Dr. Naomi Visanji, Pilot Project Grant funded by Don MacLean through Pedaling for Parkinson's (Parry Sound)

Dural lymphatic vasculature: a new player in the pathophysiology of Parkinson’s disease

Most organs in the body have a lymphatic system to drain toxins, waste and other unwanted materials. After long believing it did not exist, researchers have realized the brain, too, has a lymphatic system to do this cleansing work.

At Toronto Western Hospital, Scientific Associate Naomi Visanji, a neuroscientist, immediately saw the implications of this discovery. She’s investigating the lymph vessels in the brain to see if they do—or could—drain alpha-synuclein, a protein that accumulates in the brain cells critical to Parkinson’s disease. That accumulation kills the brain cells producing dopamine, the chemical that signals other cells to initiate movement.

"Because lymph vessels are involved in drainage of fluid, waste and other unwanted material, it’s a natural idea that the vessels might be involved in the drainage of excess toxic proteins in the brain," says Visanji.

Dr. Emily Swinkin, Clinical Movement Disorder Fellowship funded by Hartley Richardson through Pedaling for Parkinson's (Parry Sound)

Supporting Dr. Swinkin's Fellowship at Toronto Western Hospital

Swinkin is a neurologist embarking on her first year as a Clinical Movement Disorders Fellow with the University Health Network, working at the Toronto Western Hospital Movement Disorders Clinic. Her goal is to learn more about how to help people with complicated cases of Parkinson’s disease and refine her skills in treating movement disorders.

Swinkin will gain experience in deep brain stimulation, a treatment that involves inserting electrodes in the brain to deliver electrical pulses that can help control the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s such as tremors, stiffness and slowness.

She’ll also learn more about Duodopa, an intestinal gel infused directly into the intestine to improve the way levodopa works, by extending the amount of time the drug can continuously relieve Parkinson’s symptoms.

2018 Grant

In 2018, the final year of the Parry Sound ride, in excess of $700,000 was raised through rider contributions and through significant personal gifts and pledges from riders and their families. The following grants have been named in honour of Pedaling for Parkinson's riders and their loved ones.

Dr. Penny MacDonald, Pilot Project Grant funded in honour of Dr. Robert Lorne Alexander

Update: Dr. MacDonald has successfully tested her hypothesis with support from this grant, and reports having leveraged the results of this grant to receive $493,426 from CIHR to continue this study.

Dr. MacDonald’s project is using MRI to study the brains of people who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s and also affected by REM sleep behaviour disorder. The intention of this project is to determine whether the presence of REM sleep behaviour disorder (RBD) can serve as a preclinical marker of onset of Parkinson’s to support diagnosis. Successful treatment of Parkinson’s is impacted by the fact that by the time Parkinson’s is diagnosed, patients have already suffered degeneration in a significant portion (60-80%) of dopamine-producing neurons.

A significant percentage of patients with RBD later develop Parkinson’s disease or a similar illness, with RBD symptoms preceding the onset of Parkinson’s by a number of years. Identifying certain changes in the brains of people with both recently diagnosed Parkinson’s and RBD using MRI may point to diagnostic biomarkers for Parkinson’s which may allow for early detection and intervention, ultimately leading to better treatment and management of Parkinson’s.

Dr. Douglas Munoz, Pilot Project Grant funded in honour of John Bannister

Using pharmacogenetics to identify biomarkers for cognitive impairment in early PD

The primary goal of Dr. Munoz’s project is to investigate the effect of dopamine therapy on variability in cognitive function in Parkinson’s, specifically, in the area of mixed-strategy decision making. His lab’s early work suggests that dopaminergic drugs (a specific class of Parkinson medication) may impair this type of decision making.

Dr. Ziv Gan-Or, New Investigator Award funded in honour of Dr. John Newall

SNCA genetic variance and the progression from REM sleep behavior disorder to Parkinson disease

A significant percentage of patients with REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder (RBD) later develop Parkinson’s disease or a similar illness, with RBD symptoms preceding the onset of Parkinson’s by a number of years. Dr. Gan-Or’s lab has already collected a group of 1,000 people with RBD and 3,000 controls who are being studied longitudinally for their development of Parkinson’s. This specific project aims to identify patients with RBD and treat them with induced stem cells to examine the impact on their accumulation of α-synuclein and development of Parkinson’s symptoms.

Dr. Gan-Or believes "the experiments on alpha-synuclein uptake and propagation will allow us to better understand how genetics affect progression, and it may serve as target for future development of treatment, aimed to stop alpha-synuclein progression."

Dr. Hideto Takahashi, New Investigator Award funded in honour of Dr. John Newall

Role of neurexin in the spreading of a-synuclein pathology in Parkinson’s disease

Dr. Takahaski's project investigates the molecular mechanisms underlying the spread of α-synuclein in Parkinson’s. In particular, the spread of α-synuclein to limbic and cortical regions of the brain has been highly correlated with cognitive challenges in Parkinson’s. Dr. Takahashi’s project presumes that α-synuclein spreads similar to peptides that cause Alzheimer’s.

The project hopes to deepen our understanding of how the protein α-synuclein spreads in Parkinson’s which could lead to a better understanding of how to treat cognitive issues in Parkinson’s disease by preventing or mitigating the spread of α-synuclein.

Dr. Sarah Lidstone, Clinical Movement Disorder Fellowship funded in honour of Dr. Peter George Morse

This project will support the Clinical Movement Disorder Fellowship and training of Sarah Lidstone at University Health Network in Toronto. The intent of these grants is to train the next generation of clinical practitioners thereby ensuring that more Canadians living with Parkinson's have access to specially trained neurologists to support the management of their disease.

2017 Grant

New Investigator Award Dr. Thomas M. Durcan

Investigating the effect of USP8-mediated deubiquitination on Parkin function

Parkin is the name of a protein that is part of a larger protein called E3 ubiquitin. This larger protein (E3) is involved in the progress of identifying and targeting other proteins that are destined for degradation (being destroyed). There is evidence that a mutation (something wrong) with the Parkin protein can lead to Parkinson's because in a mutated state, the Parkin protein is unable to destroy/eliminate defective mitochondria. There is evidence that defective mitochondria can adversely affect other cells, such as dopaminergic neurons, involved with movement. Therefore, Parkin needs to be working properly to help "protect" dopaminergic neurons.

Dr. Durcan is researching ways to help stop the Parkin protein from mutating so it stops working, and at the same time, promoting its "good" activity when in a normal state.

Dr. Durcan shared in his thank you letter to ride organizers "[m]y reason for working on Parkinson’s disease is that… with recent advances in cell biology and genetics, I believe the time is right for finding a potential cure for patients. While the work my group does is challenging, it’s immensely rewarding and it really feels that for the first time we are starting to finally understand this devastating disorder after so many years, with the hope that one or more treatments will emerge from my work and others to help cure this disorder.

New Investigator Award Dr. Lorraine Kalia

Alpha-synuclein in LRRK- 2-related Parkinson's disease

Discovered in 2004, leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) is the greatest known genetic contributor to Parkinson's disease (PD). By and large, Parkinson's has not been considered to be a genetic disease. The majority of cases are called idiopathic, which simply means that we don't know what caused the disease. In fact, only about 10 percent of PD cases have been linked to a genetic cause. Mutations in the LRRK2 gene are the most common cause of PD in this relatively small group, representing one to two percent of total Parkinson's cases.(Michael J Fox Foundation)

LRRK-2-related PD offers a unique human model to investigate the other pathological causes of PD and through her work, Dr. Lorraine has established the world’s largest collection of clinically characterized autopsy cases of LRRK-2-related PD.

In addition, α-synuclein, through immunoreactive interactions, is hypothesized to mediate neurodegeneration in PD and thereby contribute to its clinical expression of PD symptoms.

The results from Dr. Kalia's work will help determine the presence, distribution, and toxicity of α-synuclein in LRRK-2-related PD and identify previously unknown clinicopathological correlations in this genetic form of the disease. Since LRRK-2-related PD can serve as a model of sporadic PD, her findings may have broader implications regarding how we understand the pathogenesis of PD and how we diagnose, and even define the disease.

Pilot Project Grant Dr. Natalina Salmaso

Elucidating the neuroprotective potential of astroglial cells in a rat model of Parkinson's disease

Astroglial neurons (type of cells in the brain) are integral to neuronal support both during normal function and in response to injury and neurodegeneration. While many studies have noted astroglial changes in morphology or proteins associated with astroglial neurons, only a handful of studies have examined the potential for astroglial cells to reverse or prevent neurodegenerative processes.

Dr. Salmaso and her team have recently conducted a preliminary study where they established a model for testing the therapeutic potential of stimulating astroglia neurons to help alleviate Parkinson’s disease. While there were a low number of subjects, the results were promising and suggested that daily astroglial stimulation for one week immediately following toxin injection is sufficient to "slow down" the effects and related behaviour (e.g., of Parkinson's).

Dr. Salmaso is testing the hypothesis that stimulation of these astroglial cells will prevent neurodegeneration and the related diseases (e.g., Parkinson's) and induce changes in astroglial-specific gene (and protein) expression that are related to changes in neurodegenerative processes.

Basic Research Fellowship Dr. Melanie Tremblay

Investigating the mechanisms and potential treatments for gambling behaviours developed following dopamine agonist treatment for Parkinson's Disease

L-DOPA, the first line treatment for Parkinson’s disease (PD), can cause other problems for patients such as dyskinesia symptoms, over time. In addition, other preferential dopamine treatments that have been successfully used as alternative therapies for the motor symptoms of PD, can lead to impulse control disorders (ICDs) like gambling disorders (GD), in a significant minority of patients.

Parkinson's is also associated with decreased serotonin (5-HT) signaling (involved in movement). Decreased synthesis of 5-HT is linked to loss of impulse control, and is associated with diseases marked by high impulsivity, such as bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Adjunctive therapies that could prevent these disastrous side-effects, while maintaining therapeutic efficacy for PD, are urgently needed.

Dr. Tremblay's work will be investigating the relationship of 5-HT and dopamine systems, as well as potentially open avenues for novel drug development. It could also improve quality of life and treatment options for PD patients and reveal new avenues for research in the treatment of other addictive disorders observed in PD patients following treatment.

2016 Grant

In 2016 Pedaling for Parkinson's continued its growth, raising in excess of $200,000 which has allowed for funding of two, two year grants through the Parkinson Canada research program. Specifically, the grant recipients are:

  • Dr. Abid Oueslati , Two Year New Investigator Award researching a cell model of alpha-synuclein with a goal of understanding why Parkinson's progresses at different rates in different people.Update: Dr. Oueslati informed Parkinson Canada in 2018 this he has leveraged results from this study into a $726,750 grant from CIHR. His new project is titled: Unveiling the role of alpha-synuclein clustering and Lewy body formation in Parkinson's disease pathogenesis using an optogenetic-mediated protein aggregation system
  • Dr. Joel Watts, Two Year New Investigator Award. Dr. Watts is taking the understanding built up around the diseases linked to the notorious prion proteins, and applying this knowledge to unravel the underlying molecular processes of Parkinson’s disease. His work promises to shed new light on the way in which a key protein spreads through the brain of someone with Parkinson’s disease, as well as revealing possible therapeutic targets for stopping that spread.

Below, Dr. Watts speaks to the value of the Pedaling for Parkinson's Research Grant and his project:

For details on grants awarded prior to 2015, please click here.