Another Sneak Peek at #WorldWithoutPD: Q&A with Dr. David Vaillancourt

David VaillancourtHow will we create a world without Parkinson’s? On June 1, the Parkinson’s Foundation, is asking scientists to answer this question at our cutting-edge scientific event, “World Without Parkinson’s.” Our team predicts that scientific progress in the next 20 years will outpace progress of the last 200 since James Parkinson published, “An Essay on the Shaking Palsy.”

How will we get there? Get a preview from event speaker David Vaillancourt, Ph.D., of the University of Florida, a Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence.

Q. Why are you a part of the event? What excites you about it?

When asked to speak at “World Without Parkinson’s,” I was humbled and very excited to be invited to such an event marking the 200th year anniversary of James Parkinson’s, “The Shaking Palsy.” The event is exciting to me because we, as speakers, are being asked by the Parkinson’s Foundation to look forward and think of how we can solve problems for people with Parkinson’s in the future. This out-of-the-box thinking brings together leaders across the globe that understand policy, healthcare, ethics, biology, imaging, genetics, and therapeutics of Parkinson’s.

Q. You are speaking about neuroimaging biomarkers. How will these markers bring us closer to a world without Parkinson’s disease?

Yes, I was asked to be a part of this event based on my work in developing new neuroimaging biomarkers that could help to track the progression of Parkinson’s.

Since the time of James Parkinson’s essay in 1817, we have been describing the symptoms of Parkinson’s. The past 200 years has seen great progress. For example, using rating scales, we now can do a good job of tracking the severity of Parkinson’s symptoms over time.

But as we look to the next 20-50 years of Parkinson’s research, we need better tools. Specifically, we need objective measurements called biomarkers. Right now there is no approved treatment that stops or slows down Parkinson’s. It is believed that progress toward a breakthrough has been slowed, in part, by the lack of a biomarker that would objectively detect brain changes related to Parkinson’s and monitor them as the disease progresses.

Our own group at the University of Florida and others are on the cusp of producing markers that could be used in the very near future to help clinical trials.  These neuroimaging biomarkers could be used to test experimental therapies such as alpha-synuclein inhibitors, or others, to understand their potential to slow or stop Parkinson’s.

In my lecture at “World Without Parkinson’s,” I will talk about the progress that has been made in structural neuroimaging using a technique called free-water diffusion imaging.  This approach has enormous potential to track the degenerative pathology occurring in Parkinson’s, which may provide the biomarkers we need to find disease modifying therapies in the near future.

Q. What do you hope to see as an outcome of the event?

First, I hope that scientists and pharmaceutical companies developing new therapies see the value in the neuroimaging biomarkers in the pipeline.  Second, I envision discussions emerging that cross disciplines of Parkinson’s so that we can see the forest instead of only seeing the trees.  I think this big picture thinking will drive questions and innovation going forward.  Third, I look forward to learning from my colleagues so that I can translate their mindset into our future research programs.

Q. Why should the PD community be hopeful about science?

The main reason the PD community should be hopeful is because of the talented people working to solve these problems have enormous passion to make something positive happen.  I was at the National Institutes of Health Parkinson’s Disease Biomarker Program last summer in Bethesda, MD and a patient representative was invited to give their perspective.  The patient representative talked about how they were humbled to see the behind the scenes passion and boots on the ground perspective from the scientists involved.  There are labs all across the world trying to figure out the basic molecular signals, physiological circuits, and behavioral features that will respond to new therapies going forward.  Scientists are determined to find better therapies that can help people with Parkinson’s and create a world without the disease.

Are you a scientist or health innovator? Learn about World Without Parkinson’s by visiting www.parkinsonsfoundation.org/wwp

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