In the eyes of a Parkinson‰Ûªs patient

Chris Hudson, a professor at the vision and optometry science department, is researching a way to improve diagnosing Parkinson’s disease — a progressive disorder that affects movement — by looking at the changes in the retina of patients with Parkinson’s. His research is done in collaboration with the Ontario Neurodegenerative Disease Research Initiative (ONDRI), of which UW is a participating centre. 

 After taking a break due to his Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2003 at the age of 41, Hudson was invited to join the ONDRI team in 2014. Hudson took the opportunity to make the best out of a bad situation. 

“When you get told you have a diagnosis of something like Parkinson’s disease, especially at a relatively young age … it’s numbing,” he said. “You refuse to accept [it] and then after a while you accept [it], and then after that you start to think ‘well, I’m not going to let this thing beat me, I’m going to do something that is worthwhile.’ ” 

ONDRI looks into six diseases that can produce dementia — such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s — by assessing and tracking patients in order to get better measures of neural changes in these diseases. Research into neurodegenerative diseases has become increasingly important in the face of an aging population. 

“Dementia is the single greatest cause of disability and debilitation in Canada’s senior population. It costs Canadians billions of dollars per year — a figure expected to grow tenfold during the next 20 years,” according to ONDRI.  “It’s estimated that more than 100,000 Canadians will develop dementia in the coming year and that more than 500,000 Canadians are currently afflicted.”

Hudson’s role in the research is to improve diagnosis and find an objective measure to diagnose these diseases. 

“The idea of the ONDRI study is not just to do [a] cross-sectional study. The idea is to actually see … whether the retinal structure indicates over time what subsequently happens with the brain structure or whether it provides a more objective, more reliable outcome measure,” Hudson said.

According to Hudson, the diagnosis of diseases such as Parkinson’s is often a process of exclusion as symptoms are similar among other diseases, making neurodegenerative diseases difficult to diagnose. Finding an objective measure for diagnosing these diseases would allow for earlier diagnoses. He explained that there are a number of drugs that can currently be prescribed to treat these diseases, however an earlier diagnosis would improve chances of more successful drug therapy and lead to shorter and less painful clinical tests.

Currently, Hudson is working on managing the symptoms of Parkinson’s. 

“I can never be as confident to say I managed the disease. I modulate the disease, I can input some amount of influence on the disease, and that makes a huge difference.”


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