Joel Watts

Canada Research Chair in Protein Misfolding Disorders

Tier 2 - 2017-10-01
University of Toronto
Canadian Institutes of Health Research


Research involves

Using biochemistry methods and tools to reveal the relationship between groups of misfolded proteins and the progression of degenerative brain disease.

Research relevance

This research will provide insight and evidence to inform the design of clinical trials and ways to diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

The Search for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Treatments

About 850,000 people currently suffer from either Alzheimer's or Parkinson’s disease in Canada, with rates expected to increase as our population ages. With no effective treatments, these progressive, degenerative and debilitating diseases exact a huge toll on patients, their families and the healthcare system. Research to uncover the biological basis of these illnesses is critically important.

Dr. Joel Watts, Canada Research Chair in Protein Misfolding Disorders, is studying the underlying causes of degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s. Watts’ unique approach involves exploring patient-to-patient variability at the molecular level to understand the progression of these illnesses. In particular, he focuses on the misfolded proteins known to clump together and multiply in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Watts’ research offers new insights into the relationship between the speed at which a person’s disease progresses and the way the proteins group together. He and his research team are also shedding light on potential methods for identifying “strains” of these protein groups that could be targeted by new therapies and personalized diagnostic tools.

Watts and his team will first explore the molecular behaviours in patient-donated tissue samples, then in animal models (mice) that mimic human brain disease progression. This will provide a superior way to screen and test new therapies, as well as inform the design of safe, effective clinical trials with patients.

Ultimately, Watts’ research will help find new biological targets to better diagnose and treat degenerative brain diseases, offering hope to millions of people worldwide.