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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Science
October 25, 2016
Canadian Excellence


Parkinsonís disease (PD), and other movement disorders, such as Huntingtonís disease, progressive supranuclear palsy, multiple system atrophy, corticobasal degeneration, Touretteís syndrome, stroke and Wilsonís disease, have a progressive long-term impact on the afflicted individualsí independence and quality of life. Treatment for these disorders is a tremendous burden on the Canadian health care system, costing hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

The Faculty of Science and the Department of Kinesiology & Physical Education at Wilfrid Laurier University propose to establish a nationally and internationally recognized community-based research and rehabilitation centre to focus on Parkinsonís disease and other movement disorders. 

The Movement Disorders Research & Rehabilitation Centre (MDRC) based in the Faculty of Science conducts research into movement disorders, predominately those found in individuals with Parkinsonís disease. The centre conducts research that has immediate and direct impact on individuals in our community. Research foci include investigation of brain function, evaluation of internationally developed treatment strategies and devices, and the development of exercise rehabilitation for the alleviation of disease symptoms.

Parkinsonís disease affects over 100,000 Canadians and has a progressive long-term impact on functional independence and quality of life. Degeneration of a common brain structure known as the basal ganglia leads to impairment of movement control, as observed in Parkinsonís disease and several other movement disorders. Deficits can be readily observed in both simple and complex functional actions of the upper limbs, and in the lower limbs in balance and gait control.

Our collaborative team includes 20 full-time faculty from Laurier and other universities/institutions, as well as graduate and undergraduate students, and therapists from the community who will contribute to projects of the MDRC. Team members will be involved in the generation of research ideas, collection of data, sharing of knowledge at research seminars at the centre, at national and international conferences, and publication of the research advances in high quality peer-reviewed journals. The centre will integrate multi-site expertise in the fields of physiotherapy, occupational therapy, biomechanics, motor control, movement disorders neurology, statistics, and psychosocial research. The primary objective is to understand brain function and how it contributes to movement impairment in movement disorder populations. This knowledge will be used to evaluate whether specific forms of exercise influence the neural pathways responsible for controlling movement, posture and balance, and hence impact the symptoms of disease. The influence of exercise rehabilitation on movement control and its relationship to functional improvement are among the primary objectives of the centerís studies. A key element in the proposed research involves the creation of a validated assessment tool that measures benefits of exercise in terms of symptoms, movement control, and functional status in the activities of daily living.

Research benefits and opportunities

As there is currently no cure for these diseases, traditional treatment aims to replace dopamine in the brain with medication to compensate for neurodegenerative processes. The potential neuroprotective and rehabilitative influence of exercise on brain pathways for improved functional control of movement has been rarely studied, although it is a quickly growing topic of international interest. Research at Laurier suggests that discovery of a new sensory processing function of the basal ganglia may lead to successful rehabilitation and slowing of the progressive symptoms of disease. Through multi-disciplinary and collaborative research, scientists at Laurier are discovering new aspects in the neurological health sciences that have assisted people already in coping with brain related maladies.

Dr. Quincy Almeida, Professor of Kinesiology & Physical Education, and his team are at the forefront of designing exercise rehabilitation based on the potential therapeutic influence of sensory signals in movement disorder diseases.

Wilfrid Laurier University is devoted to learning, research, professional expertise and personal development in a supportive environment. MDRC would provide unique opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to have hands-on interaction with movement disorder patients in volunteer, co-op, observational learning (laboratory component of undergraduate and graduate classes), rehabilitation and research placements. These opportunities are attracting high-calibre undergraduate students as well as graduate students to the new MSc in Health and Physical Activity offered by KPE. The interdisciplinary and comprehensive nature of the MDRC is also attracting attention from international researchers and scholars who wish to become involved in its research activities.

While many universities are attempting to establish research institutes to focus on healthy aging, Wilfrid Laurier University is the first university in Canada to integrate scientific research and rehabilitation with a focus on movement disorders in a research centre. This initiative will foster a link to community chapters of the Parkinsonís Society of Canada and local hospitals. Community partnered approaches to research meet our objective of deepening our scientific knowledge base in the areas of health promotion and disease prevention. These partnerships offer the potential to generate better-informed hypotheses, develop more effective interventions, and enhance the translation of research results into practice.