I was very fortunate to receive the Parkinson Association of Alberta Graduate Scholarship in 2017-2019 as an early PhD student under the co-supervision of Drs. Patrick Whelan and Zelma Kiss. My PhD work formed the first collaboration between them and complimented research programs of my co-supervisors, who are interested in the brain and spinal circuitry of locomotor control (Dr. Whelan) and applying these in Parkinson disease (PD) (Dr. Kiss).
As I now approach the end of my PhD training, I am getting ready to publish my work on a brain region called the A13, in normal and Parkinsonian mouse models. First, I confirmed that the A13 was preserved as a dopaminergic nucleus in people with advanced PD. This provided the rationale for why we need to understand the role of this parallel dopaminergic pathway. The A13 could provide an important residual source of dopamine to the locomotor circuitry for promoting movement and could offer a personalized therapeutic target to treat gait difficulties in PD.
The funding I received from Parkinson Association of Alberta was not only vital for my PhD work and success but increased my competitiveness in procuring additional funding. For example, I received a Parkinson Canada studentship in 2019, the Dean’s doctoral Scholarship in 2020, and was runner-up for PhD student of the year for highest impact paper in the Neuroscience program. I have published 2 original research articles (Scientific Reports 2018, Journal of Neuroscience Methods 2020) and 2 review articles (Frontiers in Neuroscience 2017, Current Opinion in Physiology 2019) from my funded PhD work thus far, in addition to 2 papers from my work with patients undergoing DBS surgery (Journal of Neuroscience 2018, Journal of Neural Engineering 2018).
The impact of Parkinson Association of Alberta Graduate Scholarship ultimately stretches beyond the one student by allowing more funds to remain within labs for direct research costs and for sharing of our scientific progress through publications and conferences. I identified two types of A13 cells as well as global, brain-wide remodelling of its inputs and outputs after the mouse models were made parkinsonian from brain injections in the nigrostriatal pathway. My PhD work provides the foundation for future research in our lab. Indeed, it has led to a new collaboration and successful grants (CIHR and Hotchkiss Brain Institute/Calgary Parkinson Research Initiative). This further research will utilize a genetic rat model of PD which along with a newly developed implantable Deep Brain Stimulation system in this model. This information is vital to extend our animal work to develop preclinical models that will aid in translation to humans.
I truly appreciate the support Parkinson Association of Alberta provides in advancing scientific knowledge and discoveries. Thank you to all the donors and volunteers who make this possible!
Linda Kim, MSc
PhD Candidate, Whelan and Kiss Labs
Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary