I received Parkinson Alberta funding in 2019- a pivotal time in my postdoctoral career at the University of Calgary. I had just completed a three-year project focusing on deep brain stimulation (DBS) in treatment-resistant depression and was in the process of examining novel ‘neural noise’ electrical biomarkers (or biological indicators) for response to the DBS treatment. I was involved in collecting similar electrical data in the operating room from movement disorder patients and although I was nearing the end of my post-doctoral term, I became curious about whether ‘neural noise’ might also relate to symptoms of Parkinson disease (PD) or predict response to DBS. The Parkinson Alberta funding allowed me to continue past my original end date and leverage my skills and experience from the depression work to investigate this interesting research avenue. I initially wondered whether this ‘brain noise’ could be a biomarker for some of the non-motor aspects of PD. However we could not relate depression severity (which was somewhat mild) in patients undergoing DBS surgery to this indicator. However the ‘neural noise’ did predict response to DBS as well as severity of motor features. Importantly this discovery may inform cutting edge adaptive DBS technologies, to personalize therapy for individuals. Without the funding from Parkinson Alberta, I would not have been able to complete this research.
In addition to furthering my scientific pursuits, the grant was also vital for me on a personal and professional level. My funding began during a transitional point in my career when I was looking for my next steps. The CEO of burgeoning start-up in the biotech sector approached me to take a key position with them in research and development, beginning in September 2019. I was intrigued by the opportunity but was conflicted as I was still deeply interested in research. Surprisingly, Parkinson Alberta allowed me to continue with my research, part-time, until the end of my funding term (April 2020). This ideal flexibility allowed me to complete the research I had committed to whilst exploring whether this new opportunity was right for me. Over that time, I realized that I was drawn to the intersection of industry and science, and there was also a need for expertise in that area. In July 2020, I started my own small business aimed at bridging the all-too-common divide between business and academic worlds. We focus on supporting industry partners interested in developing or optimizing research strategies or who want to bolster their commercial activities with evidence-based practices.
I am grateful to Parkinson Alberta, for allowing me the opportunity to discover such a well-suited professional niche. In the current funding environment, purely academic jobs are more difficult to secure and the future of public funding for research is uncertain. It is critical that we open the academic world to support from industry partners in a synergistic way. The time for silos is over. Forward-thinking and flexible funding agencies like Parkinson Alberta will hopefully set the tone for the future.
Dr. Darren Clark
Founder/Partner, Cogent Pathways Consulting Ltd.
Chief Research Officer, Luft Botanicals Inc.
The fight to end Parkinson disease is complex and ongoing. Getting involved in local research projects is one of the best ways to be a part of this fight.