Top researchers share ideas with Laurier students

Three leaders in Parkinson’s disease research took part in a discussion June 3 at Wilfrid Laurier University to share their ideas and findings with Laurier’s Movement Disorder Research and Rehabilitation Centre (MDRC).

The panelists, invited in conjunction with Laurier’s centennial celebrations, were Lilian Gobbi, professor of neurology at São Paulo State University, Tel Aviv researcher Meir Plotnik and senior lecturer at the University of Sydney Dr. Simon Lewis. While the former two panelists were present for the discussion at the Maureen Forrester Recital Hall, Dr. Lewis joined in via teleconference after being unable to make the trip.

“It is not often, especially for [WLU], to have an opportunity to bring literally world leaders to speak about something that Canada has a very big part of taking a role in, and that’s Parkinson’s disease,” said associate professor and director of MDRC Quincy Almeida.

“There were a lot of smiles in the room because many of the other studies that other researchers presented, we’ve done similar studies and identified similar things over the last five to seven years already,” he added.

The research discussed varied from the focus on the benefits of exercise that Gobbi presented to the problems of freezing of gait (FOG) that many Parkinson’s suffers struggle with.

Both Dr. Lewis and Plotnik discussed their differing methodologies of trying to understand FOG, a symptom where the individual’s motion freezes most often with walking but can also occur in other movements such as writing or speaking.

With the possibility of patients with FOG falling or being injured after the freezing subsides, executing tests can be a challenge. Dr. Lewis explained how his research has used virtual technology to simulate walking by allowing the patient to see a moving room and move their legs accordingly against a sensor while completing the testing sitting down.

Dr. Lewis, similar to the other panelists, still has many unanswered questions that he is working to resolve – in his case, determining whether virtual reality can be used as screening or even therapeutic tool.

The work the panelists discussed ultimately provided a great deal of insight not only to those interested in Parkinson’s research who were attending the event, but also to the students working in MDRC.

“Lewis, Dr. Gobbi and Plotnik are huge names in the Parkinson’s area of research,” said Haseel Bhatt, a Laurier masters of science student.

“My masters thesis is largely based on turning and freezing of gait and Plotnik is one of the leaders in bilateral coordination,” Bhatt continued, noting that his own research on turning movements while walking benefits from that research. “For him to even weigh in on my masters provides me some sort of insight in what actually is happening and let’s me take a step back and critically look at my stuff.”

The connection between Laurier and the international scene goes beyond the discussion held on Friday. PhD student in psychology, Frederico Faria, previously studied under Gobbi while completing his earlier degrees at São Paulo State.

“Now it’s even more important for me to have this kind of contact with other researchers in other parts of the world to improve my knowledge about other research and how they develop this research in other laboratories,” explained Faria.

The panelists came to Waterloo not only to spend the day with the students and faculty in MDRC, but to also attend the International Congress of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders happening next week in Toronto.

Laurier will also be at the conference to present findings gathered from this past year’s research.

Yet the one-on-one discussions seem to be the most crucial in bringing together ideas. “This type of interaction where students can meet world leaders allows us to share ideas rather than us be competitive with each other,” said Almeida.