Ontario Neurodegenerative Disease Research Initiative studies underway across the province.

Studies are now underway for the Ontario Neurodegenerative Disease Research Initiative (ONDRI) Integrated Discovery Program in Hamilton, Kingston, London, Ottawa, and Toronto.

The initiative, led by Dr. Michael J. Strong, Dean, Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and a leading neuroscientist, aims to understand the commonalities and distinguishing characteristics of five neurodegenerative disorders: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), frontotemporal lobar dementia, and vascular cognitive impairment.

ONDRI is the first study of its kind in the world to collect large amounts of data on a spectrum of neurodegenerative disorders.

“It’s the most complex long-term observational study in the world,” said Strong. “It brings together a large group of more than 50 investigators from across the province of Ontario, four patient advocacy groups, and the industrial sector.”

ONDRI aims to enrol 600 participants across the province in 2015 who will participate in an array of assessments. These include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) brain scans, eye-tracking, blood and gait analysis, and cognitive testing.

“The research findings will show us the similarities and differences between these disorders by comparing data across disorders and assessments in ways that haven’t been done anywhere before. For example, if we discover that all Parkinson’s patients have specific eye movements, we’ll be able to look for the signs to help prevention and increase effective treatment, ultimately improving the quality of life for patients,” said Strong.

ONDRI researchers at more than twenty participating clinical, academic and research centres have started conducting the assessments with participants. One of the key assessments involves six separate types of MRI brain scans including high resolution imaging that looks at physical changes in the brain, and functional MRI which shows brain activity.

“This study is unique because we’re running all of these scans across a number of different neurodegenerative conditions,” said Robert Bartha, PhD, the ONDRI imaging platform lead and Associate Professor, Medical Biophysics, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. “Being able to correlate these structural and functional brain changes that we’re tracking with other measures of function and cognition is completely new, especially in the context of a longitudinal study.”

All of the collected data is being entered into a central database expected to answer a variety of different research questions related to diagnosis and treatment of these disorders.

The Ontario Brain Institute (OBI) will invest $19 million in new funds during the next five years to ONDRI. Partner institutions and donations will contribute another $9.5 million to the program, bringing the total investment to $28.5 million.

“There’s an ever-growing need for high-quality research focused on neurodegenerative disorders and ONDRI takes traditional research a step further by maximizing pan-Ontario integration,” said Donald Stuss, PhD, President and Scientific Director of OBI.

“OBI is proud to support an initiative focused on science that will translate into societal impact. Through the involvement of clinicians and patient advocacy groups, patient needs are placed at the centre of the cutting-edge work being done and through the early engagement of industry partners, the commercialization of research outcomes becomes a priority as opposed to an afterthought,” said Stuss.

MEDIA CONTACT: Ashley Wilcox, Program Coordinator, ONDRI, ashley.wilcox@sunnybrook.ca

The Ontario Neurodegenerative Disease Research Initiative (ONDRI) is a research program designed to improve the diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease/mild cognitive impairment, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, frontotemporal lobar dementia, and vascular cognitive impairment. ONDRI is a province-wide collaboration between Ontario’s world-class neurodegenerative disease researchers and clinicians, patient advocacy groups and the industrial sector that’s following 600 participants for up to three years who will complete assessments for genomics, gait and balance, eye-tracking, neuropsychology, and neuroimaging. ONDRI’s mandate is to ensure that discoveries are transformed into new diagnostics, treatments and improved clinical practice.

The Ontario Brain Institute is a provinciallyfunded, notforprofit research centre seeking to maximize the impact of neuroscience and establish Ontario as a world leader in brain research, commercialization and care. We create convergent partnerships between researchers, clinicians, industry, patients, and their advocates to foster discovery and deliver innovative products and services that improve the lives of those living with brain disorders.

Western delivers an academic experience second to none. Since 1878, The Western Experience has combined academic excellence with life-long opportunities for intellectual, social and cultural growth in order to better serve our communities. Our research excellence expands knowledge and drives discovery with real-world application. Western attracts individuals with a broad worldview, seeking to study, influence and lead in the international community.

The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University is one of Canada’s preeminent medical and dental schools. Established in 1881, it was one of the founding schools of Western University and is known for being the birthplace of family medicine in Canada. For more than 130 years, the School has demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence and a passion for scientific discovery.