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Famed Parkinson's scholar accepts Ottawa post

June 23, 2006

By Matthew Sekeres
The Ottawa Citizen

His resume spans 17 pages. He has published more than 40 academic works, reviewed 11 medical journals, consulted for seven corporate organizations and spoken before countless learned groups worldwide.

He has made scientific breakthroughs in movement disorders, earned numerous scholarly awards and could soon hold a first Canada Research Chair for Parkinson's disease.

Even better, Dr. Michael Schlossmacher -- who a soon-to-be colleague called "a free-agent star who finalizes our team" -- is moving to Ottawa.

"All of that (resume) stuff is irrelevant. Don't embarrass me with the nuisance details," he says.

"The key thing is: I am coming to Ottawa," the Harvard University professor said last night in a telephone interview.

"There is always too much emphasis on a title, or what someone has accomplished. What is more important is what someone is contributing to a team, and that's one of the things I love about the prospect of coming to Ottawa."

Today, Dr. Schlossmacher, 44, will speak to the Kiwanis Medical Foundation luncheon at the University of Ottawa, but the better news for Parkinson's sufferers is that he has accepted a position with the Parkinson's Research Consortium and is scheduled to begin work on Aug. 1.

The consortium, which will receive a $25,000 cheque from Kiwanis today to help defer the cost of moving Dr. Schlossmacher's laboratory from Boston, was established two years ago by the Ottawa Health Research Institute, the research arm of the University of Ottawa and the Ottawa Hospital.

Hailed as a unique venture, the consortium brought together 11 scientists from varied fields for Parkinson's research and treatment.

The pooled expertise came together thanks to Dr. David Grimes and Dr. David Park, who envisioned a centre that would put Ottawa on the Parkinson's research map and attract clinicians from around the world.

The plan was to hire a clinician who was also a researcher, a rare combination of specialization that would make the consortium a "bench to bedside" operation. Dr. Schlossmacher fills that position.

"What Michael does is bridge the gap, said Dr. Park, co-director of the consortium and an associate professor in the faculty of medicine.

"It is incredibly difficult to be successful at both. (Dr. Schlossmacher) is one of those rare ones who can do it. He is very well known. He publishes in top journals, he has trained with some of the top people in the field. We're quite pleased to have him."

Landing the renowned doctor is considered quite a coup for the infant consortium.

Dr. David Park admits that the two-year-old institute is just beginning to spread its wings, and does not yet have the international reputation of its new addition.

Born in Paris and raised in Vienna, Dr. Schlossmacher was sold on Canada after a 1985 visit to McGill University. He has taken his family of six on four Canadian vacations in the last four years and gushes about Ottawa.

"I just ended up on the wrong side of the border, initially. Now, it is time to come to a place that I've thought provided the best synergy between what I love about Europe, and what I love about the United States."

As he explains his rationale for making the move, Dr. Schlossmacher rattles off the names and specialities of his future co-workers and explains how this institutional mind-melding will help his research. He will spend 80 per cent of his time on research and 20 per cent in the clinic, as well as teaching graduate courses at the university.

More than 100,000 people have Parkinson's, for which there is no cure. Little is known about its cause. Worse yet, it is still diagnosed by exclusion, meaning other afflictions must be discounted, and that can take months.

Dr. Schlossmacher said he has two goals: to develop a better tool for diagnosing Parkinson's, namely a blood or spinal fluid test, and to eventually treat the root cause, not just the symptoms.

"There is a great group of people there who are perfect partners-in-arms for me and what I want to do in the future," he said.

Note: Reprinted with permission from the Ottawa Citizen.