"Although remarkable discoveries have been made throughout the last century about the brain's anatomy and functions, far less is known about how best to intervene when these functions become disordered or diseased."
Dr. Matthew Farrer, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Neurogenetics and Translational Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia (UBC), is working to pioneer new strategies, for early detection and improved treatments, for Parkinson's disease, and related movement and memory disorders.
"Genetic discoveries are like pieces of a puzzle, with each piece identified (a corner, an edge, the sky etc.) so the picture, the true molecular etiology of disease, is revealed."
An ambitious researcher, Dr. Farrer has made several influential discoveries in genetics and is critically acclaimed for the identification of mutations in α-synuclein (SNCA), leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) and elongation initiation factor 4G1 (eIF4G1) in late-onset, Lewy body Parkinson's disease, as well as the discovery of dynactin p150 mutations in Perry syndrome (depression and parkinsonism with hypoventilation). Most recently, in 2011, the team discovered mutations in vesicular sorting protein 35 (VPS35). Click here for more information: UBC Media Release - Newly Identified Gene Mutation
"Genetic proof is certainty; everything else is open to opinion."
Once considered a sporadic disease with no genetic etiology, genetics in Parkinson's disease now provide a foundation for neuroscience research. The heritability of Parkinson's disease is now estimated at about 27%. This paradigm shift has major significance, giving novel direction to the field and renewing hope for therapies that treat motor and non-motor features, to both alleviate symptoms and slow progression.
"Finding gene mutations is critical, but only the beginning. Our challenge is to exploit that information to predict and prevent disease."
Dr. Farrer has recently established a research centre for applied neurogenetics, abbreviated as CAN. It forms the nidus of an international consortium of brain researchers, neurologists, neuroscientists and geneticists with a common ambition, to predict and prevent neurodegeneration. The CAN program aligns extremely well with existing expertise at UBC. In this past year collaborations have been forged with researchers from the Pacific Parkinson's Research Centre, the Brain Research Centre at UBC, the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics, the Child & Family Research Institute, and the Centre of Drug Research and Development. In the near future, CAN will play a central role in shaping disease-oriented neurologic research within the Centre for Brain Health, a new facility to open in 2013 that will integrate clinicians and researchers that will benefit patient care and promote 'successful' aging.
In 2010, Farrer was appointed as the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Neurogenetics and Translational Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia, one of only 19 world-class researchers to be named in the inaugural program.
Please visit the CAN website for more information, and how you can get involved.