Since 2009 the Partners Investing in Parkinson Research (PIPR) team has raised over one million dollars for Parkinson’s research at The Ottawa Hospital. This year their fundraising efforts will support the innovative work of neuropathologist Dr. John Woulfe.
Parkinson's is a degenerative disease caused by the depletion of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Dr. Woulfe’s research focuses on how and where in the body the Parkinson’s disease process begins.
Recent research has found that muscle tremors or rigidity are not the only symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Some patients have a diminished sense of smell and gastrointestinal problems decades before they notice any muscle symptoms. This could be because nerve cells are being lost in the nose and gut.
Dr. Woulfe and his team are suggesting that Parkinson’s disease does not start in the brain, but in other parts of the body that are exposed to environmental triggers like viruses or pesticides. People with a protein called alpha-synuclein are more at risk of developing Parkinson’s, and the team believes that some environmental triggers may be telling this protein to unwind. As the protein unwinds and clumps, it spreads from nerve cell to nerve cell within the body, very slowly making its way to the brain.
The Woulfe lab is working with laboratory models to create a tool that will further explain how the alpha-synuclein protein clumps. They will also explore the genetic or environmental causes that start the clumping process, and use the tool to test different therapeutic options which could stop the protein from clumping. This has the potential to halt or even prevent the disease.
“HOPE - it's the one word that describes my motivation for raising funds for research projects aimed at identifying causes and improving treatments and one day potentially finding a cure. The more I learn about the wonderful work being done, the more motivated I am, as someone who lives with Parkinson’s disease,” said Elaine Goetz, PIPR member.
This is one of many discoveries made by researchers at The Ottawa Hospital that propels our understanding and advancements in Parkinson’s disease. Made-in-Ottawa research is making big strides and creating a real impact on patient care.
About Dr. Woulfe
Dr. John Woulfe is a Staff Neuropathologist in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine of The Ottawa Hospital, Associate Professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Ottawa and is an Associate Scientist at the Ottawa Health Research Institute. He completed his BSc in Biology and Psychology at McMaster University, his MSc in Neuroanatomy at the University of Western Ontario and his Ph.D. in Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University in 1991. He completed his medical doctorate at McMaster University in 1994 and received his specialty residency training in Clinical Neuropathology from the University of Western Ontario in 1998.
Dr. Woulfe’s research is focused on mechanisms of neurodegeneration. Specifically, he is interested in triggers of synuclein aggregation in the peripheral nervous system. This work is based on the hypothesis that Parkinson’s disease may begin in the decades before the brain is affected and prior to the onset of motor symptoms.
By combining his clinical work and research projects, Dr. Woulfe has used his findings in human post-mortem tissue to inform studies in laboratory models and in cell culture systems.
“This important research is changing the future of Parkinson’s disease. It is crucial that we understand how Parkinson’s disease is initiated and how it changes and affects the human body over time,” said Dr. Woulfe on his research at The Ottawa Hospital.