Nodding Syndrome: Emergence of an Epidemic Neurological Disease in Post-​conflict Uganda

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Nodding Syndrome: Emergence of an Epidemic Neurological disease in post-​conflict Uganda

Michael S. Pollanen, Professor and Vice-Chair (Innovation) of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at the University of Toronto

Nodding syndrome (NS) is an epidemic neurologic disorder that emerged as an unprecedented outbreak in 3000 children of the Acholi tribe in northern Uganda. The epidemic occurred in the wake of internal armed conflict with displacement of families into refugee camps in the late 1990s and is ongoing. The cause and pathogenesis of NS is not known. The prevailing theory is that NS is due to chronic infection with the nematode Onchocerca volvulus, the parasite that caused river blindness. We recently discovered that NS is a tauopathy. It has some similarity to the spatiotemporal emergence of the ALS Parkinson dementia complex on the island of Guam in the 1950s. We aim to study the NS epidemic, using a multidisciplinary approach, based on our hypothesis is that NS is caused by a convergence of genetic and environmental factors.

Michael S. Pollanen is Professor and Vice-Chair (Innovation) of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at the University of Toronto and the Chief Forensic Pathologist for Ontario, Canada. He graduated from the University of Toronto with an MD (1999) and PhD (1995) and completed his residency in Pathology in 2003. Professor Pollanen’s main educational focus is training forensic pathologists and strengthening forensic capacity in the Global South. He has been involved in case work or training missions in: Algeria, Bermuda, Cambodia, East Timor, Egypt, Haiti, Iraq, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Palestine, Thailand, and Uzbekistan. His current research interest is nodding syndrome in Uganda. He has published over 100 papers in peer-reviewed journals. Professor Pollanen is a member of the forensic advisory board of the International Committee of the Red Cross and is a Past President of the International Association of Forensic Science (2015-17).

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