From CERN to leading the fight against Parkinson’s disease. Martin J. McKeown at Second Collisions

Martin J. McKeown

One of the distinguished alumni speakers at the upcoming CERN Alumni Second Collisions event (1- 3 Oct) is Martin J. McKeown, who first came to CERN in 1985. He is now a Professor of Medicine, and Director of the Pacific Parkinson’s Research Centre at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Martin is a clinician scientist who see patients with mostly Parkinson’s disease, as well as conducting research to help people with Parkinson’s. He did his undergraduate work in Engineering Physics (during which time he came to CERN), which has proved helpful in this regard.

The upcoming event, Second Collisions, highlights the postive impact of a professional CERN experience and the alumni relations team wanted to understand the extent to which Martin's CERN experience has had an impact on his subsequent career.
"It was interesting to see how large, international collaborations functioned. I learned how some talks can be both entertaining and informative which has help me prepare my own talks. I learned the “lamp-post theory” when I was at CERN: namely if you stagger home from the pub in the dark and realize you have lost your keys, you go back to look under the lamp post – not because there is greater likelihood that they are there – but that is the only place where you can find them. I found that analogy particularly germane to neuroscience, where much of what we know about the brain is based on examining it from particular points in the spatiotemporal plane, based on the brain monitoring technologies available."

So many CERN alumni are now working in highly impactful fields, having a direct and positive influence on society. We asked Martin to outline how his work is having such an impact.
"We are still using the same medication – L-dopa – for treating Parkinson’s disease that was introduced over 50 years ago! Other diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s) have similarly suffered stagnation in attempts to treat the disease via pharmacotherapy. What was ground-breaking was the discovery > 20 yrs ago that instead of trying to normalize the brain’s altered biochemistry, normalizing the brain’s abnormal electrical activity/oscillations can also serve as powerful treatments. However, such treatment typically requires invasive surgery and implantation of electrodes deep inside the brain. We are trying to use non-invasively electrical brain stimulation, coupled with advanced analysis methods of Deep Learning and Control Theory, to see if we can provide anywhere near the same benefit to patients without the an operation and its associated risks. Although our focus is Parkinson’s disease, such approaches will likely be broadly applicable to a number of neurologic and psychiatric diseases.

Another area we are looking at is longitudinal monitoring of the motor function of people with Parkinson’s. There has been tremendous growth in sensor and video monitoring technology that may be of potential value for people living with the disease. However, ensuring people’s privacy and ensuring that information gleaned from the huge volume of data results in actionable therapeutic decisions is a challenge. Close work with clinicians, scientists and engineers is necessary."

CERN Alumni Second Collisions promises to be an inspiring and entertaining event, with numerous opportunites to network, to be entertained and to witness first hand the impact of CERN alumni across the globe. Martin confirmed and added,
"It is always fascinating to see how different people have approached their careers.  It may be helpful for young people to see all the different ways training at CERN can help them in the future. I am both humbled and honoured to be asked to share my story with CERN alumni."

Whether you’re a member of CERN’s alumni community or you’re working at CERN today, join us for a weekend like no other. Wherever you are in the world, whatever your background, we have talks and activities guaranteed to both inspire and entertain you, as well as opportunities to reconnect and develop your network.” Register for Second Collisions now and find out more about the event here.

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