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Giving hope to ALS patients: Dr. Brittney Parlett, Resident Alumna

Residency brings many unexpected challenges. For Resident Alumna, Dr. Brittney Parlett, it was her husband Jeff Perreault being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Instead of giving up hope, Dr. Parlett excelled in her residency, cared for her husband and raised money for ALS research.

Dr. Parlett completed her residency in obstetrics and gynaecology at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and received the award for Academic Excellence in the Residency Program.

When Perreault was diagnosed with ALS, the couple learned that in Canada there is only one drug that has been approved for ALS and the best it can do is add a few months to a patient’s expected lifespan.

“When someone receives a diagnosis of ALS and they find out that there is only this one drug, the first thing that they often lose is hope,” explained Dr. Parlett.

Dr. Parlett and her husband are trying to give back that hope. Two and a half years ago, the couple co-founded the Adaptive Canuck ALS Foundation with the goal of improving ALS research in Canada to help give people diagnosed with ALS more options.

“We found that when Jeff was diagnosed, there were no clinical trials available he could participate in. We’ve been trying to improve what is available because of this gap in treatment options,” said Dr. Parlett.

Dr. Parlett and Perreault are grateful for the outpouring support from the Schulich Medicine & Dentistry community. This year the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology donated the proceeds of their annual charity dodgeball and barbeque event to Adaptive Canuck. The emotional support from the School also helped Dr. Parlett persevere during her residency and while caring for Perreault.

“We really couldn’t have done it without the support of the School,” said Dr. Parlett.

Money raised by the School and the Foundation’s other fundraising efforts, such as their Give a LIFT for ALS campaign, have brought the Foundation close to approval from Health Canada to start Phase I clinical trials of a process that promises more effective treatment delivery to the brain.

“The trial will have the blood-brain barrier of the motor cortex of ALS patients opened up. That will be a first in the world,” explained Perreault.

The blood-brain barrier is a semipermeable cell membrane the separates blood from the brain. This membrane creates a more stable environment for the brain by protecting it from chemical fluctuations in the body. The cells in this membrane are so tightly packed, that some molecules from drug treatments are too large to pass through the membrane. This prevents the delivery of treatment. Opening the blood-brain barrier uses focused ultrasound to loosen the cell membrane to allow more effective treatment delivery.

“They have done this technique with Alzheimer’s patients and people with brain tumours and it has been proven safe. We hope ALS will be next to benefit from research of this technique,” said Perreault.

The couple’s efforts with Adaptive Canuck have paid off in other ways as well. They have successfully built relationships with politicians at the federal and provincial levels, made connections with businesses around the world, held a national fundraising campaign and helped guide countless ALS patients and their families through what can be a challenging experience. Dr. Parlett is now a practicing OB/GYN in Sudbury, Ontario. As a board member for Adaptive Canuck, Dr. Parlett assists Perreault with his now full-time commitment to the Foundation. The husband and wife team find strength and inspiration in each other every day.

“Brittney is strong and has a huge heart. She works very hard from 4:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. every day. She pushes me and keeps me going,” said Perreault.

“It’s easy to be inspired by Jeff because there are a lot of struggles with this disease on a day-to-day basis and he is doing phenomenal things for himself and others. It’s just incredible,” added Dr. Parlett.

To find out more about the Adaptive Canuck ALS Foundation visit their website.