NEWS RELEASE - 2011JTI0106-001039
For Immediate Release
Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, LifeLabs, Genome BC, The University of British Columbia
VANCOUVER – Jim Smerdon believes that in his lifetime, researchers will find a treatment that will stop Parkinson’s disease from destroying his ability to walk and talk, work and play.
Matthew Farrer is one of the people most likely to prove Jim Smerdon right.
Smerdon, 37, is one of 11,000 British Columbians with Parkinson’s disease. His symptoms are controlled by drugs, some days more effectively than others. But the condition itself progresses inexorably, as he discovers if he’s ever late taking his medications.
Farrer is a world expert in the genetic aspects of Parkinson’s disease and molecular neuroscience. His appointment as the Dr. Donald Rix B.C. Leadership Chair in Genetic Medicine at the University of British Columbia was announced today by Dr. Moira Stilwell, Parliamentary Secretary for Industry, Research and Innovation.
Farrer and his team have helped identify five genes involved in Parkinson’s by analyzing DNA from families in more than 20 countries on five continents, collaborating with the doctors who work directly with the patients. His most recent discovery, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics last month, is the identification of a genetic mutation that causes late-onset Parkinson’s disease, using DNA samples of a Swiss family where 11 relatives have developed the disease.
This is the first genetic mutation discovery related to Parkinson’s led by a Canadian team. Farrer and his team are now developing new therapies based on their findings of the past decade.
To establish the genetic medicine chair, the Province is providing $2.25 million through its Leading Edge Endowment Fund. The chair is co-sponsored by LifeLabs, which is contributing $2 million to the endowment, and the Genome BC Foundation, which is providing $250,000. The chair is named for the late Dr. Don Rix, physician, philanthropist, and community and business leader.
Farrer and his team are based at UBC’s faculty of medicine and the Brain Research Centre at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. They will also work with scientists at the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics, using the latest genetic and computing technologies.
Government established LEEF to attract world-class researchers to B.C., promote economic growth and job creation, strengthen the province’s position as a centre of excellence in research, match government funding with money from the private sector and individual donors, and promote the unique roles that B.C. universities and colleges play in innovation in British Columbia.
Dr. Moira Stilwell, Parliamentary Secretary for Industry, Research and Innovation – “Diseases of the brain are some of the greatest challenges facing medical science today, and funding this kind of cutting-edge research is a priority for our government. Dr. Farrer will play a lead role in developing new drugs and therapies here in British Columbia for diseases that cause enormous suffering around the world for patients and their families.”
Matthew Farrer, Dr. Donald Rix B.C. Leadership Chair in Genetic Medicine – “British Columbia has one of the most concentrated and high-calibre clusters of brain and neuroscience researchers, and one of the most robust biotech industries, in the world. This synergy provides the perfect environment for me and my team to make fundamental genetic discoveries and translate them into treatments that will improve the quality of life for patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases, and that of their families.”
John Hepburn, UBC vice president research and international – “We are grateful to the Province of British Columbia for its continued support for research through the Leading Edge Endowment Fund. I have no doubt that the high-calibre basic and translational research Dr. Farrer and his B.C. and international collaborators are carrying out right here in the province will have a tremendous impact on our understand of – and ultimately help eradicate – Parkinson’s disease and other related debilitating brain disorders.”
Mark Murphy, director of LifeLabs Inc. – “We are delighted to have this research chair named in honour of Dr. Rix in recognition of his many years of exemplary leadership in British Columbia’s biotechnology and medical research sectors. We hope our support of Dr. Farrer’s innovative research will help reduce the burden that neurodegenerative diseases have on our health-care system and, most importantly, on families.”
Alan Winter, president of Genome BC – “Genome BC is pleased to be able to bring together private industry, academia and government to harness new opportunities for health research. The appointment of Dr. Farrer to the Dr. Donald Rix B.C. Leadership Chair in Genetic Medicine will allow us to continue to build upon the great foundation in brain research in B.C. and contribute to new and improved treatments for patients everywhere.”
Jim Smerdon, member of Parkinson Society British Columbia – “I am an optimist, which is one reason I put my heart and soul into raising money for Parkinson’s research. Scientists like Dr. Farrer give me hope – for myself, and that someday people will never suffer the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s, because they will be diagnosed and treated first.”
- Parkinson's disease affects nerve cells in the part of the brain controlling muscle movement. Symptoms can include trembling, muscle rigidity, difficulty walking, and problems with balance and co-ordination.
- Symptoms generally develop after age 50, although four per cent of cases affect people under 50, including children as young as seven. Up to half of Parkinson’s sufferers develop dementia.
- An estimated 11,000 British Columbians are afflicted with Parkinson’s, and more than 100,000 people in Canada suffer from the disease.
- Parkinson’s is the second most-common chronic neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s.
- It is estimated that 10 million Canadians – nearly one-third of the country’s population – will be affected by brain disease, disorder or injury at some time in their lives.
- It costs Canada’s health-care systems an estimated $30 billion a year to treat these conditions.
- The provincial government has invested $56.25 million in the Leading Edge Endowment Fund to create 29 permanently endowed chairs.
- The Dr. Donald Rix B.C. Leadership Chair in Genetic Medicine is the 24th LEEF chair to be named, and the ninth at UBC.
- The chair proposal was developed by Dr. Michael Hayden and his colleagues at the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics, and Hayden played an instrumental role in recruiting Farrer.
- Leading Edge Endowment Fund: www.leefbc.ca
- LifeLabs BC: www.lifelabs.com/Lifelabs_BC/
- Genome BC: www.genomebc.ca
- Brain Research Centre: www.brain.ubc.ca
- UBC Faculty of Medicine: www.med.ubc.ca
- Parkinson’s Pacific Research Centre: www.parkinsons.ubc.ca
- Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute: www.vchri.ca
Carolyn Heiman, Communications Manager, Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation 250 387-2799
Brian Lin, Acting Associate Director, UBC Public Affairs, 604 822-2064 (Office), 604 818-5685 (Cell)
Lisa Rostoks, LifeLabs, Communications Consultant, 416 675-4530 ext. 2015
Julia White, Communications Officer, Genome British Columbia, 604 637-4378
Connect with the Province of B.C. at: www.gov.bc.ca/connect