ONDRI Department Profile - A province-wide team with a common goal

The Ontario Neurodegenerative Disease Research Initiative (ONDRI) is a research program designed to improve the diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. The focus is on Alzheimer's disease/mild cognitive impairment, Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, frontotemporal lobar dementia, and vascular cognitive impairment.

Dr. Michael J. Strong is leading the program as the Principal Investigator, and while Western University is the host institution, it's only one of more than twenty participating clinical, academic and research centres.

Team members based at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry include Peter Kleinstiver, Andrea Richter, Michele Vanderspank, and Sean Lucas.

It’s a province-wide collaboration between Ontario’s world-class neurodegenerative disease researchers and clinicians, patient advocacy groups, and the industrial sector carried out in partnership with the Ontario Brain Institute.

Peter Kleinstiver, Program Manager, heads the project management portion of the program. With such an expansive, province-wide study, Kleinstiver admits the team faces unexpected challenges on a daily basis. He describes them as unstructured problems, a question that has never been answered before and may never arise again.

“The biggest challenge is that we have five different diseases that we are studying simultaneously,” Kleinstiver explained. “Not only are they running cross-sectional, but also longitudinal over a span of three years.”

“I’ve been doing this for almost 35 years, and I have never been involved in a research project where we’ve studied five different diseases at once. That’s never happened,” Kleinstiver said.

Kleinstiver commends the team’s remarkable ability to come up with unique solutions to unique problems on a daily basis. He explained that even though ONDRI is spread across Ontario, the team engages in impromptu problem-solving teleconferences monthly, weekly and occasionally daily if needed.

More than 600 participants will be followed for up to three years and will complete assessments for genomics, gait and balance, eye-tracking, neuropsychology, and neuroimaging that will seek out the early indicators, commonalities and distinguishing characteristics of all the diseases, instead of only studying what’s unique about each of the five diseases.

Although they are in the early stages of their study, Kleinstiver recalled some of his most memorable moments and milestones with the team so far, including the completion of protocols and the enrollment of their first participant in August 2014. But what might be more important is the team’s ability to persevere and keep working toward their goals.

“There have been a number of times we’ve found a compromise, been able to problem solve and come up with acceptable solutions for everyone,” Kleinstiver said. “It’s something that takes a lot of time and effort when you’re studying multiple diseases with so many different people and personalities.”

Although their team is spread province-wide, Kleinstiver perfectly summed up the common thought that brings this whole team together.

“The end game of this study is that ‘eureka’ moment that people say ‘wow, all of this work has been worth it’,” he explained. “When we can finally understand the pathology of these diseases better, and ultimately have the potential to find treatment and provide earlier diagnosis.”