FOCUS on Adolescents: A mixed-methods study to optimize COVID-19 recovery and renewal efforts among adolescents in Canada and France

The COVID-19 pandemic and its corresponding health, social, and economic implications present potential lasting consequences for inequalities and vulnerabilities to manifest across later phases of the life course — a trend that may have significant impacts for adolescents aged 15-19. For example, school closures and other public health measures (e.g. isolation) have had significant effects on adolescent health — an age group whose need for social engagement and connection are essential for development. However, little is known about how social, economic, and cultural changes related to COVID-19 will affect adolescents’ health and social well-being over time.

To fill this knowledge gap, Dr. Rod Knight (principal investigator, assistant professor, UBC Department of Medicine) and Dr. Marie Jauffret-Roustide (co-principal investigator, research scientist, INSERM, University of Paris) are launching an international research study to extend their CIHR-funded France-Canada Observatory on COVID-19, Youth Health, and Social-wellbeing (FOCUS) – a research program launched in June 2020 to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on youth aged 19-29 living in Canada and France – to include adolescents aged 15-19.

The FOCUS on Adolescents project will work alongside a group of adolescents from Canada and France to adapt the FOCUS Study’s program of research to include adolescents in a series of annual interviews and bi-annual national online surveys. At the end of the study, a participatory summit will be held in each country with youth and key stakeholders working with adolescents (e.g. clinicians, community members, policy makers) to identify interventions that best address the social and health needs of adolescents.

This research project will provide policy makers and clinicians with high-quality, real-time evidence to inform COVID-19 public health responses to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequities among adolescents.

Funding competition: CIHR Operating Grant: Understanding and mitigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, youth and families in Canada

Funders: CIHR; Michael Smith Health Research BC

Impact of social determinants of mental health on child and parent risk, resilience and support access in the COVID-19 era: A nested mixed-methods study of short and long-term outcomes

The study entitled, “Impact of social determinants of mental health on child and parent risk, resilience and support access in the COVID-19 era: A nested mixed-methods study of short and long-term outcomes” was funded by the CIHR Operating Grant: Understanding and mitigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, youth and families in Canada competition, in addition to Michael Smith Health Research BC funds. The project is pan-Canadian, but largely focused on BC participants.

Project co-leads include Evelyn Stewart MD and Hasina Samji PhD, who brought together their extensive collaborative networks. Dr. Stewart is a UBC professor, child and adolescent psychiatrist and Director of Research for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, BCCH. Dr. Samji is an epidemiologist, SFU assistant professor and senior scientist at BCCDC.

Between November 2020 and July 2021, the group collected baseline data for the Personal Impacts of COVID-19 Survey (PICS), a Canadian study identifying vulnerability factors to poor mental health related to preexisting medical and living conditions, sex/gender minorities and poverty. Based on our PICS baseline findings, which includes 3,351 Canadians, rates of several COVID-era mental illnesses were several-fold higher than expected; and one quarter of parents reported needing but not receiving mental health support.

Our mixed-methods study will build upon PICS findings by recontacting participants to better understand their pandemic-era mental health service access, future preferences and the role of social risk and resilience factors. It will also identify those with persisting, resolving and newly emerging mental illness during the COVID-19 recovery phase. In this way, our study will provide a current, comprehensive perspective on families’ experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and how services providers, community organizations and policymakers can best serve child and parent populations at highest risk for ongoing mental health impacts.

Funding competition: CIHR Operating Grant: Understanding and mitigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, youth and families in Canada

Funders: CIHR; Michael Smith Health Research BC

Evaluating a virtual care platform (REACHOUT) that delivers peer-led mental health support to adults with type 1 diabetes in rural and remote communities in British Columbia

Mental health is often overlooked in diabetes care. In fact, BC’s provincial health plan does not cover psychological services for patients with chronic illness. Studies have found that, of psychological stressors, diabetes distress (DD) is the most closely associated with poor blood sugar control and worse health consequences. DD refers to the unique and often hidden emotional burdens, and relentless frustrations and worries that patients experience when trying to manage this condition. In 2027, almost 35,000 British Columbians diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) will report clinically significant levels of DD. Unfortunately, T1D adults living in rural and remote regions will have the least access to mental health services. I seek to address three major gaps in BC’s diabetes care: the availability, affordability, and accessibility of mental health support for T1D patients living in settings with limited resources. In collaboration with T1D patients, clinical psychologists, digital health specialists, and biomedical engineers, I will use digital health strategies to “drive” a peer-led mental health support intervention (REACHOUT) to adults with T1D living in geographically isolated communities.

Exploring the experiences of racialized learners to understand and dismantle racist structures in our healthcare system

Racism is experienced by learners, professionals, and patients in our healthcare system and contributes to well-documented health inequities. However, patient care and health outcomes are improved through a diverse physician workforce. Medical schools have attempted to support diversity through the admissions process, including increased racial diversity in their programs. Yet we know little about the experiences of racialized learners once admitted. This study will explore the impact of existing policies, processes and practices on learners’ sense of agency, attending to their perspectives on how their experiences of racism impact patient care.
This study focuses on racialized learners’ experiences in their clinical education over time through the use of diaries and interviews. Engaging with learners across four medical schools, we will attend to the impact of important differences in their identities such as race, gender, and sexual orientation.
Through this study, we will identify concrete ways in which our healthcare (and clinical education) systems perpetuate racism. From this, I will work with clinicians, educators and policy makers to enact systems changes that will ultimately reduce health inequities.

Economic evaluation of the use of expanded criteria donor kidneys pre-emptively to improve the critical organ shortage

Kidney transplantation can be life saving for people with end-stage kidney disease at a lower cost than the only other alternative which is dialysis treatments. Unfortunately, there are not enough kidneys available for transplant. This means that until we can improve the kidney supply, patients will continue to have to wait on a waiting list and may die in the process.

Kidneys from older donors have been successfully used for transplant, but at a higher risk. This higher risk discourages some patients and physicians from accepting these kidneys for transplant. This results in kidneys being discarded that could otherwise have saved lives.

However, these kidneys will have better outcomes if they are given to patients before they ever need to start dialysis, instead of our current practice which is to wait until someone is at the top of the waitlist after years of dialysis. This research project will use economic models to study how allocating kidneys from older donors to some patients before they ever need dialysis might impact the overall kidney supply and patient outcomes. This research will help inform future health care policy which may improve organ supply for patients waiting for a life-saving transplant.

The DISCO study: Rethinking STI prevention

Syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea are three of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI). Over the last decade, these STIs have seen a resurgence in many parts of Canada, with most infections seen in major urban centres. These infections have primarily affected gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM). Recently, a small pilot study found that doxycycline — an inexpensive, well-tolerated antibiotic — given daily may prevent new STIs in gbMSM. Another study looked at the use of doxycycline given after a sexual encounter for prevention of STIs, and the results of this study showed protection against STIs as well. Based on these promising data, along with the concerning increases in STIs seen in Canada, the current study will examine the use of doxycycline as either a daily prevention therapy (preexposure prophylaxis, or PrEP) or an ‘after sex’ prevention tool (postexposure prophylaxis, or PEP) for STIs in gbMSM. While examining for efficacy as its primary goal, this study will also do an examination of some of the potential challenges and concerns associated with the use of a daily antibiotic: drug resistance, tolerability and side effects, and how acceptable this drug is for people to take regularly.

Perioperative stroke screening and outcomes in high-risk surgical patients

Up to two percent of patients will experience a stroke during or after surgery and these patients have a high chance of disability and death. Currently, we don’t understand clearly how to prevent, detect, and treat stroke after surgery. Although risk factors have been identified including older age and cardiac surgery, high risk surgical patients are not usually identified and strokes can be missed, leading to fewer treatment options and more complications. My previous pilot study showed that anesthesia and surgery can limit the accuracy of standard screening tools for stroke. We urgently needed a screening tool and protocol specifically for surgical patients. We also don’t understand well how patients recover after perioperative stroke, such as which patients survive, and whether they can stay in their homes. Building on our prior research, this multiphase study aims to: (1) Understanding which patients do poorly after perioperative stroke and whether those factors can be changed; (2) Compare mortality and other complications after stroke between those who had recent surgery and those who did not; and (3) Identify a useful perioperative stroke screening tool to quickly and accurately detect stroke after surgery.

Neuropsychological functioning in treatment resistant schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a severe and disabling psychiatric illness involving primary symptoms of psychosis (hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking and behavior). Unfortunately, as many as 30% of patients respond poorly to standard antipsychotic medications and are considered to have treatment resistant schizophrenia (TRS). Neuropsychological impairment is an important clinical feature of schizophrenia, as cognitive deficits predict poor treatment response, daily functioning, and disability. However, very little is known about cognitive functioning in the clinically complex subset of patients with TRS. The aims of this project are therefore to investigate the severity, pattern, and variation in cognitive functioning among individuals with TRS, and to determine whether cognitive difficulties predict treatment response and functioning. This will be achieved by analyzing clinical and neuropsychological data that has been collected on TRS patients who have been treated within the BC Psychosis Program since 2012. Findings using this unique dataset will have a direct impact on shaping assessment and treatment strategies, improving prognosis and ability to predict functioning, and improving clinical decision-making and planning.

Leveraging computational modelling and 3D bioprinting in pursuit of a regenerative therapeutic approach for male infertility

A desperate need exists to develop technology to regenerate sperm that can be used for in vitro fertilization (IVF) among men who lack sperm production, such as pediatric cancer survivors. In Canada, approximately 2,440 boys aged less than 15 will be diagnosed with cancer each year. Fortunately, the field of oncology has made significant improvements in survival rates, which are estimated to be 83%. However, treatments will render up to 97% of paediatric cancer survivors infertile with no sperm production, despite over 75% eventually desiring to have biological children. While stem cells (sperm precursors) can be retrieved prior to cancer therapies, no technology currently exists to regenerate sperm, which is required to achieve a pregnancy. This project proposes to utilize single cell sequencing and along with state-of-the-art computational modelling to reveal molecules and pathways that are key regulators of developing sperm from stem cells. These findings will be screened and tested to identify critical molecules that help generate sperm in 3D bioprinted structures. Results from this study will contribute to developing the understanding and technology to regenerate sperm for men lacking any ability to father biological children.

Advanced pulmonary diagnostics in paediatric respiratory medicine: From technical development to clinical implementation

Chronic lung diseases present a serious health challenge for Canadian children and youth. For example, cystic fibrosis (CF) shortens life expectancy and carries an enormous treatment cost (>$250,000 per person per year). Another example is asthma, which affects nearly 1 in 7 Canadians under age 20. Improving the lives of people with these conditions is possible but requires accurate detection and close monitoring of their lung disease.

Unfortunately, the tests available to paediatric respiratory physicians are often difficult for children to perform and not sensitive enough to detect or subtle disease. This significantly limits physicians’ ability to detect, treat and monitor lung disease in children and must change.

My research program focuses on the development of easy-to-perform and sensitive tools to help physicians diagnose and monitor lung disease in children. Specifically, I am an expert in techniques known as hyperpolarised xenon lung MRI (XeMRI) and multiple breath washout testing (MBW).

During tenure of this Health Professional-Investigator award, I will lead research focused on improving the XeMRI and MBW techniques and using these new tools clinically to improve the health of children with lung diseases.