The brain is a metabolically demanding organ . Mismatch between blood flow and demand (from neurons) leads to a disruption and in extreme cases injury. Because the smallest blood vessels in the brain are narrow, they are prone to becoming obstructed by circulating cells and debris. This is exacerbated in Diabetics, with “sticky” blood vessels. The cells of blood vessels, endothelial cells, are more than just “pipes”, they form large physically connected networks between themselves. An important regulator of these networks, and a signal to communicate between them, is waves of calcium flowing into cells, which can propagate between these cells. How Diabetes affects these networks of blood vessels, and in turn impact the health of the brain is unknown. Thanks to new genetic tools with state of the art microscopes, we can directly observe these calcium fluxes into endothelial cells in the living, awake, mouse brain, and especially when these blood vessels become occluded. Combined with simultaneous monitoring of blood flow and neural activity I will be able to directly measure concurrent changes in brain activity, blood flow and calcium fluxes to investigate these dynamics in the living healthy or Diabetic mammalian brain.
Reporting on population health is important to monitor trends, identify priorities, and track progress to address inequities. All Indigenous peoples have the right to be counted. Yet, over 88,000 Indigenous people in British Columbia (BC) who do not have ‘Status’ under the Indian Act or are not registered with Metis Nation BC are currently ‘uncounted’ in population health reporting.
Responsibility for reporting on health of BC residents lies with the Office of the Provincial Health Officer, including collaborative reporting on health of diverse Indigenous peoples in BC. Currently, there is no process to report on health of uncounted Indigenous peoples. Gaps include: lack of formal relationships with those representing uncounted Indigenous peoples; no way of identifying this population in BC health data; absence of research frameworks reflecting uncounted Indigenous peoples’ perspectives; and no implementation plan for province-wide surveillance involving uncounted Indigenous peoples.
This study aims to support health of uncounted Indigenous peoples in BC by addressing current gaps in population health reporting, through partnerships that uphold Indigenous self-determination, decision-making and perspectives of health and wellness.
The electrical rhythms underlying heart and brain function are sustained by proteins that form pores in cellular membranes that flux ions like calcium and sodium. These pores are anchored in place by a molecule called ankyrin-B (ANKB). We discovered a genetic change in the Gitxsan Nation of Norther BC that results in a version of ANKB (ANKB p.S646F) associated with heart defects at birth, arrhythmias, sudden death, seizures, and cerebral aneurysms. We showed that this version of the ANKB molecule is mishandled by immature heart cells; however, we do not fully understand how this ANKB version contributes to clinical manifestations. As a clinician-scientist and expert in microscopy-based measurement of cellular excitability, I am well-positioned to bridge this important knowledge gap. By imaging calcium and voltage changes in living cells, I will study the impact of partial loss of ANKB and expression of disease-associated ANKB p.S646F versions on heart and brain cell excitability. I will also compare heart cell excitability data with patient electrocardiograms to help understand the connections between fundamental laboratory and clinical observations.
The inability of patients to perform daily tasks after joint replacement remains a significant challenge as well as a burden on health systems because these poor results often require additional treatment (e.g. rehabilitation) and re-replacement. This challenge can be addressed by surgeons using individual patient characteristics to personalize how they perform joint replacement surgery. However, many surgeons perform too few procedures to effectively personalize their plans and thus technologies are needed to provide assistance.
The goal of this research is to develop an improved understanding of how patient specific factors affect the results of joint replacement as well as to develop technologies that can collect data about each patient’s individual characteristics and use these data to assist surgeons in optimally planning each surgery. This will be achieved by a combination of computer-based biomechanical research, statistical modelling, and novel sensor development. This work will improve our understanding of personalized joint replacement, yield new clinical technologies, enable surgeons to more effectively personalize surgery, result in improved patient function, and improve the health systems in BC and beyond.
Female reproductive decline (indicated by rising rates of infertility, birth defects, and miscarriage) is an early sign of aging, and is largely due to deteriorating quality of oocytes, or egg cells. Identifying the signaling pathways and mechanisms that control oocyte quality and reproductive decline is essential for better addressing female reproductive health issues, and can also provide key insights into other aspects of aging.
Our research focuses on the ties between nutrients, reproduction, and aging. In organisms ranging from worms to humans, signaling pathways that detect nutrients — such as the insulin signaling pathway — seem to play crucial roles in coordinating metabolism, reproduction, and lifespan. We will use a mouse model of genetically reduced insulin to determine how lowering insulin affects oocyte quality and reproductive success during aging. We will also study how insulin levels determine features of polycystic ovary syndrome, a common hormonal disorder, and evaluate long-term consequences of temporary nutrient excess or depletion.
We anticipate that this research will inform effective strategies to better manage female reproductive health, as well as to improve health during aging.
Childhood obesity is a major public health challenge in Canada. Without intervention, overweight children will likely continue to be overweight during adolescence and adulthood. Family-based lifestyle programs delivered at local communities can be effective. However, many families cannot attend these in-person programs due to travel distances and program availabilities. The current situation has turned increasingly dire in the COVID-19 landscape, where face-to-face, group, and facility-based interventions are no longer viable. With continued improvements in the sophistication and access to digital communication technology (e.g. Internet, wearables, smartphones), delivering tailored lifestyle programs using these tools may be well-suited to meet these challenges.
The goal of this project is to evaluate the long-term efficacy and the cost of delivering a stand-alone web-based and a blended in-person and web-based program in improving health-related outcomes in children who are overweight or obese in British Columbia (B.C), Canada. This project can be incredibly impactful for B.C. residents as this web-based program can improve the access, reach and personalization of family-based childhood obesity management programs.
Malnutrition is a serious public health concern in Inuit and northern regions of Canada, driven by a complex array of social and ecological determinants, including poverty, food insecurity, and climate change. In northern communities, country foods (wild foods harvested from the lands and waters) often comprise an integral component of food systems and contribute to food security, nutrition, and social and cultural integrity. Yet, many country foods are also high in environmental contaminants (e.g., mercury and persistent organic pollutants), which have negative implications for health. Meanwhile, due to transportation challenges, available retail foods in northern and Inuit communities tend to be pre-packaged, processed, and expensive.
In this research program, I will use existing health survey data to evaluate dietary patterns in Nunavik (northern Quebec) and associated nutritional benefits and health risks. Through interviews and community workshops, I will also identify political, social, geographical, and environmental factors that impact food access, affordability, and desirability. Findings will be shared with decision-makers to generate evidence for sustainable and healthy food systems in northern regions across Canada.
Under normal healthy circumstances our intestines are home to hundreds of species of microbes, collectively termed the microbiota. Our intestines can also be colonized by parasites, such as parasitic worms (helminths). Both the microbiota and helminths can affect the functioning of our immune system, which in turn, can influence our susceptibility to a variety of infectious, allergic, and inflammatory diseases. Research in my laboratory is focused on understanding the mechanisms by which helminths and the microbiota affect immune system functioning during normal development and during states of disease.
The incidence of allergies and inflammatory bowel diseases has increased dramatically in Canada over recent decades, and there is an urgent need both to understand the factors driving disease development and to identify new treatment strategies. My laboratory uses the mouse model system where the molecular mechanisms of interaction between components of the immune system, the microbiota, and helminths can be identified. Understanding the mechanisms by which the microbiota and helminths can influence immune system functioning may reveal new ways to treat or prevent allergic and inflammatory diseases.
In this REACH project, we will share our prior research and engage stakeholders to discuss A) how our prior research output can address the needs of sexual and gender minorities (SGM) through improved gender, sex and sexual orientation (GSSO) documentation in electronic health records (EHRs), and B) how the prior output and action plan may be transformed into setting-specific knowledge tools.
Our research team worked with Canadian stakeholders to improve the definition, collection and use of GSSO data in EHRs and generated the following outputs:
- An environment scan of how GSSO data are defined in EHRs
- Literature reviews of GSSO documentation — current approaches, gaps, needs and improvement efforts
- GSSO terms people commonly use to identify themselves
- An action plan with a set of broad, equity-oriented clinician-focused interventions to improve GSSO documentation in EHRs
In partnership with the Community-Based Research Centre, we will translate these findings into appropriate media and forms for dissemination to our diverse stakeholder groups. The expected outcomes of this project are enhanced dissemination to stakeholders and SGM-tailored knowledge translation tools in different healthcare contexts in BC.
Human cells are fascinating and complex: they reproduce, break down food to create energy and communicate with each other. The ‘skin’ of the cell, the cell membrane, plays a crucial role in choreographing interactions between a cell and the outside environment, for example by allowing or prohibiting the access of drugs from the cell exterior to the cell interior.
I design and build lab-on-a-chip devices, which are plastic chips the size of a postage stamp inside of which I can manipulate tiny amounts of liquids. I use these lab-on-a-chip devices to create artificial cells to be able to study how the cell membrane regulates access to the cell interior. Human cell membranes have lots of different components that are used to transport drugs into and out of the cell.
Since the cell membrane is complex, we do not always know exactly which component is interacting with the drug molecule, and what effect it has. The cost of developing a new drug is around 2.6 billion USD and a significant proportion of drug candidates fail because we cannot predict how they interact with cells.
My research will help design drugs that can interact with cells more efficiently, so that they can get inside the cell in order to work properly.