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A passion for patient care

Aug 6, 2015

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Bridging the role of volunteer and student researcher

By Eleni Kanavas

Ronald Perinpanayagam has an appreciation for patient care, specifically as it applies to the area of geriatrics, most of all to Alzheimer’s disease. As a volunteer at Sunnybrook’s Veterans Centre since 2011, he has learned first-hand about the cognitive and neurological impact of Alzheimer’s disease.

Perinpanayagam is entering his third year of undergraduate studies at McMaster University in Hamilton. He has dedicated his passion for the elderly demographic to studying kinesiology and health, aging and society. His interests are patient care in rehabilitation practices and neurodegeneration.

Accepted into the D+H SRI Summer Student Research Program, he is working in the lab of Dr. Isabelle Aubert, a senior scientist in the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Research Program at Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI). Perinpanayagam met Aubert, who is an expert in the field of neurodegenerative disorders, last summer when he offered to introduce her at a research talk about Alzheimer’s disease organized by Sunnybrook’s Volunteer Association.

“When I started looking into the research done by Dr. Aubert, I was blown away by the novelty of it. Something like focused ultrasound is in itself a revolutionary treatment, but applying it to Alzheimer’s disease and the preliminary results that she showed us—I just thought she was someone I really needed to get to know,” says Perinpanayagam, who kept in close contact with Aubert throughout the year.

Supervised by Sonam Dubey, a PhD candidate in Aubert’s lab, Perinpanayagam is working with the Brain Repair Group led by Aubert. The group’s research focuses on the factors affecting neurodegeneration and regeneration in Alzheimer’s pathology. He is also collaborating with Dr. Kullervo Hynynen, director of Physical Sciences at SRI, and Dr. JoAnne McLaurin, a senior scientist at SRI. The focus is on developing noninvasive ways to deliver anti-amyloid, gene and stem cell therapy through the blood-brain barrier and into the brain using preclinical models of Alzheimer’s disease.

Perinpanayagam’s specific project aims to understand the extent to which focused ultrasound affects transgenic mice, specifically in regards to how ultrasound affects the activity of the neurons in the brain. The project uses focused ultrasound guided by magnetic resonance imaging to allow different antibodies to enter the brain through the blood-brain barrier.

“The research looks at the findings of some of the therapies we’ve done on [mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease], then comparing the preliminary results and modifying the treatment we come up with [to develop] new ways to help combat Alzheimer’s disease,” he says.

Working in a lab for the first time, he says there are a lot of skills that he would have never acquired in kinesiology courses that he is gaining now.

“My kinesiology background gives me a lot of human interaction and patient care. This experience [at SRI] has given me a lot of pre-clinical, therapeutic and research modalities training,” he says.

Perinpanayagam also learned how to use the Zeiss observer spinning disc confocal microscope in the Centre for Flow Cytometry and Microscopy located in SRI’s Centre for Research in Image-Guided Therapeutics.

He uses the microscope to analyze brain tissue from mouse models that have received therapeutic focused ultrasound and natural antibodies. The system allows him to image a part of the brain called the hippocampus, specifically the dentate gyrus, which is an area responsible for memory formation and cell regeneration. He can take images at an incredibly high resolution of 63x magnification, which allows for cell visualization with immense detail, facilitating the ability to pinpoint specific protein and gene expression through bright fluorescence in the cells.

Perinpanayagam plans to present his preliminary data and the protocols he has created for his project at the poster competition on August 20, 2015.

Ronald Perinpanayagam received a D+H Summer Studentship Award.

Ronald Perinpanayagam