Neurodegenerative disease includes a wide range of debilitating conditions that cause damage to the neurons in our brains. Of these diseases is Alzheimer’s dementia, the seventh greatest contributor to mortality in Canada. This ranking is expected to rise drastically in the future as our population ages. Despite being considered incurable, efforts are being made around the world to combat the disease.

The Neurodegenerative Disease Society of Toronto (NDST), an undergraduate-led organization at the University of Toronto, devotes itself to spreading awareness of neurodegenerative diseases and inspiring the next generation of researchers to ultimately find novel therapies and treatment.

“We started this organization together after having worked in a lab over the summer that researches the underlying mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease,” explained Co-President Chris Lozano. “During our time at this lab, we had the amazing opportunity to meet world-class researchers.” This is an experience that NDST aims to share.

NDST’s second annual conference on January 21 displayed the group’s commitment to its mission. “On the Brink,” as the event was called, featured six distinguished researchers, who spoke about the innovations and advancements in therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases.

The all-star line-up began with Dr. Donald Weaver, Director of the Krembil Research Institute at Toronto Western Hospital and practicing neurologist with a PhD in medicinal chemistry and drug design. Weaver presented his research on developing novel drugs for Alzheimer’s, exploring the various breakthroughs and hurdles encountered.

Dr. John Turnbull, the Chair in Neurology at McMaster University, was next with his presentation on the difficulties of treating Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Following Turnbull’s thought-provoking presentation was a presentation by Dr. Susan Fox, the Associate Director of the Movement Disorders Clinic at Toronto Western Hospital. Fox provided updates on clinical trials for Parkinson’s disease.

In the afternoon, Dr. Tarek Rajji, the Chief in Geriatric Psychiatry at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, presented his work on neurostimulation — particularly its effects on frontal lobe functions like working memory in Alzheimer’s patients.

Dr. Ray Truant, Chair of the Scientific Advisory board of the Huntington Society of Canada, discussed the correlation between DNA damage and neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s. He explored the idea of DNA damage being the basis of neurodegeneration, contrary to the theory that it is caused by age.

Dr. Andres Lozano, the most cited neurosurgeon in the world and Chair of Functional Neurosurgery at Toronto Western Hospital was the final speaker of the day. Lozano’s presentation primarily featured his research in neurosurgical interventions, such as deep brain stimulation, a work so unique that it had been featured in an episode of House, M.D. 

Following an extensive question and answer period with Lozano, as there had been with all the previous speakers, the conference ended with concluding remarks from Co-Presidents Kevin Liu and Maria Tereshchenko.

“We hope the presentations have encouraged all of you to continue exploring the field of neurodegeneration, both from a scientific and humanistic vantage point,” said Liu.

Sabrina Ge is the Webmaster of the Neuro-degenerative Disease Society of Toronto.

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