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What's happening in research at Sunnybrook.

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Until now, there was no known cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), an incurable disease that over time causes a person's muscles to simply stop working.

That's changed with an international study that has discovered a gene that causes the majority of ALS. With only experimental drugs available to slow the progression of the disease, this discovery has enormous potential.

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Sunnybrook researcher Dr. Lorne Zinman, a lead collaborator in the study, says, "There has never been more reason to be hopeful and optimistic that ALS research will provide effective therapies for those living with ALS."

With the identification of this genetic cause and effect, researchers can now find ways to slow the progress of this disease and continue to hunt for its cure.


People living with Alzheimer's disease (AD) can sometimes have a hard time describing how they feel and, in late-stage AD, may not be able to speak at all. To diagnose neuropsychiatric issues in patients with AD, doctors have only subjective tests to use and must rely on caregivers for information, which can be critical to developing an effective treatment plan.

Drs. Krista Lanctôt and Nathan Herrmann are hoping to change this with a study of new tools for testing patients. The study will measure the effectiveness of a new visual attention-scanning system by looking at AD patients' visual attention to sad, neutral and social pictures. "The tool we are studying is a more objective way of diagnosing emotional issues, which can help clinicians make more accurate treatment decisions," says Dr. Herrmann, who is also head of geriatric psychiatry at Sunnybrook.


With the number of people suffering dementia expected to double within a generation, family physicians will be swamped by demands for timely and accurate dementia diagnoses.

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To help with this increase in demand, Drs. Mary Tierney and Jocelyn Charles are leading a group of researchers in a feasibility study of computer-administered cognitive testing called the Computerized Assessment of Mild Cognitive Impairment.

So far, 93 per cent of patients who tried it were able to complete it with minimal instruction. With an attendant to help those who need it, this assessment could work very well in a family practice setting. The next step is to compare the computer-administered test results with traditional paper-based results while asking the family doctors involved in the study if the new method of testing is useful.


When you're sick and need help, the amount of research done at your hospital isn't the first thing on your mind. It probably isn't on your mind at all.

But it's that very research that saves lives at Sunnybrook: that's why research capacity is so vital. Sunnybrook was ranked fifth in the country by Research Infosource Inc., a national research and development data firm. The 2011 ranking rates hospitals by total research funding from all possible sources in 2010. Sunnybrook's standing was based on 2010 funding of $106-million. This is a 26 per cent increase from 2009 – the highest growth among the top five hospitals.

Of the top five, Sunnybrook is the only general hospital with just one research institute. This research engine ultimately drives the innovative treatments Sunnybrook patients count on at critical times in their lives.

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