Professor, Department of Neurology, Faculty of Medicine, UBC;
Academic Director, Vancouver Coastal Health ALS Clinic
Professor Neil Cashman, a Canadian leader in neurodegenerative diseases, was recruited to UBC from Toronto to establish a program of research into protein misfolding diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He is director of the new Vancouver Coastal Health ALS Centre, which is focused on research and treatment of the disease. ALS is a progressive neuromuscular disease that eventually paralyzes limbs and muscles of speech, swallowing and respiration. There are about 2,500 Canadians living with ALS, for which there is no cure and only limited treatment. Protein misfolding also plays a role in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and it is implicated in prion (infectious protein) diseases such as mad cow disease and similar human illnesses, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). Symptoms of CJD include anxiety, depression, withdrawal and behavioural changes. The disease progresses to include motor difficulties, involuntary movements and mental deterioration. Patients may live for only about one year after onset of symptoms. Proteins, the fundamental component of living cells, are made up of long chains of amino acids which loop or fold about each other in a specific three-dimensional structure. Misfolded proteins can cause disease in surrounding cells. Dr. Cashman’s research labs at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health at UBC Hospital and at the UBC Life Sciences Institute are the first labs west of Ontario dedicated to investigating misfolding diseases.