UAlberta researchers join national partnership against neurodegenerative diseases

Interdisciplinary effort aims to prevent or delay onset and improve quality of life for people with dementia and related illnesses.

(Edmonton) An interdisciplinary group of University of Alberta researchers have been included in a federally funded, Canada-wide partnership to combat the full gamut of neurodegenerative illnesses as a united front.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research and 13 public and private partners have committed $31.5 million toward the creation of the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging, which sees 18 U of A researchers working among 20 teams to focus national research resources on delaying the onset of dementia and related illnesses, preventing these illnesses from occurring and improving the quality of life of Canadians living with these illnesses and their caregivers.

"The unique aspect of the grant is that it allows the research teams to compare across different degenerative disorders of aging," said Richard Camicioli, a neurologist in the U of A's Department of Medicine who was named as one of two U of A team leads in the consortium.

His team will be using a full range of tools to assess patients on the spectrum of Parkinson's disease and dementia with Lewy bodies to compare similar assessments on other neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's or frontal temporal dementia, being conducted at other locations. His findings will be compared across the various afflictions on the neurodegeneration spectrum.

"Ultimately we want to see how people do over time, but right now the grant is to start collecting the groups, and down the road we are going to arrange to follow these patients up," he said.

The grant also includes a number of projects that look at everything from intervention and prevention of dementia to basic science research.

Roger Dixon, Canada Research Chair in Cognition and Aging in the Department of Psychology, is the lead on a basic science research team tasked with discovering and validating biological markers of early changes associated with Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

He says his group's search for biomarkers will follow up on some biological evidence contained in blood and other fluids, and evidence found through new brain imaging techniques that can identify early signs of disruptions associated with neurodegenerative disease.

"Many researchers believe that only through early diagnosis can we make significant progress in delaying the onset of these diseases," said Dixon, noting the impact of dementia can be tragic for any individual and family and is increasingly recognized as formidable for communities and health-care budgets. "Large-scale interdisciplinary collaborations are essential to understanding the disease and to planning preventive interventions."

Camicioli says the U of A is a significant player in this consortium.

"We are leads on two of 20 teams; but more than that, the U of A's expertise can really play a role across the board," he said. "We have people in nursing, expertise in exercise, expertise in social aspects and we have expertise at the social science level. The breadth of the national team is representative of the U of A."

Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging
Team leaders and team members from the U of A

CCNA Team 8: Lewy Bodies, Aging and Dementia
Team Leader: Richard Camicioli, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital

  • Oksana Suchowersky, Department of Medicine, Neurology Division
  • Wayne Martin, Peter S. Allen MR Research Centre

CCNA Team 9: Biomarkers of Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer's disease
Team Leader: Roger Dixon, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Science

  • Christian Beaulieu, Department of Biomedical Engineering
  • Richard Camicioli, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital
  • Esther Fujiwara, Department of Psychiatry
  • Liang Li, Department of Chemistry
  • Nikolai Malykhin, Department of Biomedical Engineering
  • David Westaway, Centre for Prions and Protein Folding Diseases

Team 3

  • David Westaway, Centre for Prions and Protein Folding Diseases
  • David Wishart, departments of biological sciences, computing science, pathology and lab medicine
  • Andriy Kovalenko, National Institute for Nanotechnology, National Research Council

Team 5

  • Elena Posse de Chaves, Centre for Neuroscience, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry

Team 12

  • Richard Camicioli, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital

Team 13

  • Richard Camicioli, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital
  • Oksana Suchowersky, Department of Medicine, Neurology Division

Team 14

  • Jennie Basran, Department of Medicine
  • Richard Camicioli, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital
  • Adrian Wagg, Division of Geriatric Medicine

Team 15

  • Lili Liu, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, Department of Occupational Therapy

Team 17

  • Kathleen Hunter, Faculty of Nursing
  • Belinda Parke, Faculty of Nursing

Team 20

  • Dorothy Forbes, Faculty of Nursing

CCNA Biomarker Platform

  • Roger Dixon, Faculty of Science