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

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.

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.

Sharing the podium: Identifying solutions to meaningfully collaborate with youth in mental health and substance use research

Mental health and substance use (MHSU) are key health concerns for youth in British Columbia. Involving youth in research for these topics improves the development of MHSU interventions and solutions. However, youth may not want to engage in MHSU research due to concerns about confidentiality, stigma, and other barriers. Researchers may also perceive barriers in finding and working with youth researchers.

Our project goal is to identify barriers for youth engagement in MHSU research and recommend solutions for these issues. Two key activities will be used to bring together youths and researchers to identify the perceived barriers for each group and how these barriers can be overcome. These activities include a small-group discussion (utilizing nominal group technique) and a World Cafe. Our team will synthesize these results and outline a list of recommendations for youth engagement in MHSU research. We also plan to use this output to pursue additional funding for a pilot study using these recommendations. The pilot study would measure changes in youth research engagement and research outcomes due to the recommendations.

Team members: Dan Nixon (Providence Health Care and Foundry); Krista Glowacki (UBC); Kirsten Marchand (Providence Health Care and Foundry); Nikki Ow (UBC); Travis Salway (SFU); Hasina Samji (SFU); Steve Mathias (Providence Health Care and Foundry); Renee Cormier (Providence Health Care and Foundry); Anne Gadermann (UBC); Sarah Munro (UBC); Amanda Butler (Providence Health Care and Foundry); Chloe Gao (UBC)

Civility matters: Co-creation of an online toolkit for long-term care home staff

In long-term care (LTC) homes, the number of staff working on a shift is essential to quality care provision; however, it is increasingly apparent that who is on shift is just as important. Quality care is difficult to achieve when staff do not routinely engage with one another in a positive, or civil, manner. Our research, conducted pre-pandemic, revealed the impact of uncivil workplace behaviours on care delivery and staff well-being, an impact that has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. A positive workplace culture requires the cooperation of front-line and leadership staff and access to professional development opportunities that help staff instill and contribute to a collaborative and respectful workplace. Comprised of researchers and union and industry partners, our project team will co-create an online toolkit to support staff to address workplace (in)civility in LTC and promote supportive and collaborative workplace relationships at their worksites.

Specific objectives include: 1) Raising awareness about the nature and impact of workplace incivility in LTC on staff well-being and care delivery; 2) Creating opportunities for staff to engage with practice-based scenarios and resources for addressing workplace (in)civility.

Team members: Saleema Dhalla (SafeCare BC); Jennifer Lyle (SafeCare BC); Leah Laing (UBC); Heather Cooke (UBC); Rhonda Croft (BC Nurses’ Union); Hanif Karim (BC Nurses’ Union); Lisa Kelly (Sienna Senior Living); Cina Oppel (BC Government & Service Employees’ Union); Megan Scott (BC Government & Service Employees’ Union); Georgina Hackett (Hospital Employees’ Union); Anne Bull (Hospital Employees’ Union)


Developing educational resources to support patients and clinicians to identify and use self-management apps for bipolar disorder

Over half a million Canadians live with bipolar disorder (BD), a long-term, serious mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings from depression to mania. With optimal treatment, care, and empowerment, people with BD can flourish, but this requires more than just medication. Mobile phone applications (‘apps’) can deliver knowledge on effective self-management strategies for BD and provide real-time support. Despite high interest in mental health apps, a CREST.BD survey showed that in practice few people with BD are using such tools, and clinicians do not feel well equipped to recommend apps to their patients.

This project will develop a suite of patient and clinician-facing educational resources (e.g. webinars, videos, blog posts) in collaboration with people with lived-experience and clinicians. A co-ordinated social media strategy will be developed to increase awareness of these resources.

Expected outcomes include: patients will better understand the potential benefits and risks of mental health apps; patients will improve their digital health literacy by learning strategies to identify safe and secure mental health apps; clinicians will improve knowledge about app evaluation frameworks and informed decision making.

Team members: Natalie Dee (CREST.BD); Emma Morton (UBC); John Torous (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre); Rosemary Xinhe Hu (CREST.BD); Caden Poh (UBC); Laura Lapadat (UBC); Linda Yang (UBC)


Tokes in the throat: Health practitioner education on the effects of smoking cannabis in the upper airway

Cannabis was legalized in Canada with the introduction of the Cannabis Act in 2018. This rapid legalization has led to a knowledge gap in doctors. Although most users smoke cannabis, few doctors know the health effects of smoking cannabis in the upper airway. In previously funded work, our team has reviewed the scientific literature and summarized these health effects, both positive and negative. During the COVID19 pandemic, innovative knowledge translation activities are needed. We propose a two-part initiative to educate health practitioners about cannabis, targeting family doctors who are the patient’s gateway to the Canadian health system. First, we will co-design a webinar with the research users on our newly launched provincial platform. This event will be recorded for asynchronous access. Second, we will co-create infographics to summarize the information and launch a social media campaign on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Reach and effectiveness will be assessed by registration for the webinar and pre- and post-engagement surveys. Performance data from each social media platform will also be analyzed. Our goal is to help doctors guide patients to make informed, evidence-based choices on cannabis usage.

Team members: Brenna Lynn (UBC); Andrew Thamboo (UBC); Emily Deane (UBC); Joel Howlett (UBC); Jobanjit Phulka (UBC); James P. McCormack (UBC); Dinusha Peiris (BC Cancer Agency); M-J Milloy (British Columbia Centre on Substance Use and UBC); Christie A Newton (UBC)


Developing a method to implement patient-centered social robotics for pediatric mental health within the BC healthcare system

Could a small, interactive robotic character or pet be used in a hospital to help support children’s mental health? While children are often interested in interacting with robots, the design of these devices rarely incorporates patients and families’ needs and values. For social robots to be ethically implemented in healthcare, they must be developed according to patients’ priorities, supported by high-quality scientific evidence, and well-suited to implementation by real-world healthcare providers.
To address this, I will hold co-creation workshops with children and families with a lived experience of a childhood mental health disorder to identify goals for and barriers to social robot interventions. I will also interview key health services stakeholders who would be most involved in using a robot in the hospital — nurses, CLSs, and others — about advantages, concerns, and obstacles to deploying a social robot for pediatric mental health, as well as proposing a Health Technology Assessment.
Taken together, these research findings will facilitate the development of practice and policy for the evidence-based, patient-centred deployment of social robots to improve the wellbeing of BC children experiencing mental health challenges.

Physical exercise to mitigate the effects of physical inactivity on brain health

Problem: Many older adults experience prolonged bed rest as a result of injury, surgery, or hospitalization and this may have detrimental effects on both their cognitive (i.e. thinking) and physical abilities. Ensuring older adults engage in daily exercise during bed rest may counteract the negative consequences of physical inactivity on cognitive abilities.
Research Overview: Maximizing on an opportunity provided by CIHR and the Canadian Space Agency, we will determine: 1) the effects of 14 days of bed rest on cognitive function in adults aged 55 to 65; 2) the impact of daily sessions of physical exercise in counteracting the effects of bed rest on cognitive function; 3) the mechanisms (i.e. how) by which bed rest and impacts cognitive function and its influencing factors (e.g. sex). Participants will be randomized to a group with either 14 days of bed rest with three physical exercise daily sessions (total of 60 minutes) or a control group (bed rest only).
Potential Impact: Promote the development of novel interventions and rehabilitation strategies to counter the adverse effects of physical inactivity, including bed rest, on cognitive health in older adults during transitions in care.

Programming bordetella pertussis to produce novel vaccines

Pertussis (whooping cough) continues to be a problem despite high vaccination coverage against Bordetella pertussis, the bacterium that causes the disease. Annually, there are 24 million cases of pertussis and ~160,700 deaths worldwide. Pertussis is a respiratory disease that is transmitted from person to person through airborne droplets and poses a threat to unvaccinated infants and children whose immunity has dropped. Currently, there are two forms of the vaccine in use. The first is the killed whole-cell vaccine (wP), which is effective, but has side-effects such as swelling at the site of injection and fever. These adverse effects have diminished its acceptance in high-income countries and led to its replacement by the acellular vaccine (aP) that only contains purified components of the organism. While the aP vaccine protects against getting pertussis, it does not prevent transmission of the disease and fails to provide long-term immunity.
We aim to develop two new vaccine candidates: a revised wP and a novel aP to control the re-emergence of pertussis. This will be done through modifying some of the structural components of the bacteria to either alleviate the side effects or overcome the deficiencies of the wP and aP vaccines.