People of Chinese ancestry make up the largest visible minority group in Canada and they comprise a major percentage of new immigrants to the country. Adaptation to life in a new Western country for Chinese immigrants often comes with stress and hardship, including language barriers and school or employment adjustments. In addition, family members may adapt to the new culture at different rates, creating additional stress that may result in new areas of conflict within the family and increased risk for poorer psychological health. Often, children are relied upon to provide interpretation and translation for their non English-speaking parents. Current research is divided on whether this role harms or supports the psychological health of children — reports cite outcomes that range from psychological distress and depression to pride and increased confidence. Tapping into data gathered through a larger Intercultural Family Study at the University of Victoria, Josephine Hua is studying 180 immigrant Chinese families living in Victoria or Vancouver. She’s examining the psychological implications of language brokering for both children and parents. She hypothesizes that children’s psychological health relating to this role depends on the underlying conditions and relationships within the family. For example, a child who feels pride in fulfilling family obligations is more likely to benefit from this role. Identifying the determinants of psychological health related to language brokering for both children and parents within immigrant families will suggest strategies for promoting healthy integration into Canadian society. Ultimately, this could help alleviate the economic and psychological costs associated with maladjustment among new immigrant families.
Substance use among youth continues to be a large public health concern, including alcohol consumption among underage youth. While much research has explored youth involvement in substance use and on the negative impacts of that use, there is a lack of consensus in the literature about how to approach the prevention and treatment of youth substance use. A focus on abstinence as the only acceptable outcome is a key controversy in prevention and treatment approaches. While Canada’s laws support abstinence as the desired stance for substance use, studies show that zero-tolerance approaches to drug and alcohol prevention are often ineffective. There is some evidence of the effectiveness of harm-reduction strategies, which focus on reducing youth’s levels of risk and experiences of harm from substance use. While there are low-risk drinking guidelines for adults in British Columbia, there are currently no accepted low-risk drinking guidelines for youth, nor a clear consensus on whether any alcohol consumption by youth below legal drinking age can be considered acceptable and low risk. Kara Murray is drawing on existing research literature and survey data to explore the issues of underage alcohol consumption and its health outcomes. She’s assessing the risk of harm at different levels of alcohol consumption, specifically at low frequency and low quantity of use as outlined in the Canadian low-risk drinking guidelines. She’s also identifying whether there are age or gender differences at different levels of alcohol consumption. Murray’s research will contribute to the advancement of knowledge by attempting to formulate a continuum of risk that identifies distinct levels of hazardous and non-hazardous alcohol use for youth. Ultimately, her work could inform changes to the current prevention and educational strategies that are used.
While the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae is found in 10-40 per cent of healthy people with no ill effects, it is the cause of common diseases including pneunomia, meningitis, and ear infections. Unfortunately, more and more penicillin-resistant strains of S. pneumonia are becoming prevalent, and these strains are also developing resistance to other antibiotics. There are still a few antibiotics available to treat S. pneumoniae, but resistance to these drugs will also certainly emerge. New, more effective ways to treat bacterial infections are urgently required. Bacteria have adapted the ability to use different carbohydrates, or sugars, for a number of biological processes such as metabolism. S. pneumoniae has a number of protein enzymes devoted to carbohydrate metabolism, including a pathway dedicated to degrading (breaking down) the sugar fucose. Certain proteins in this pathway have been found to be important in some aspect of S. pneumoniae infection and disease. Melanie Higgins is focusing her research on a protein called GH98. GH98 is found on the outside of the bacteria and is thought to be the first step in this fucose degradation pathway. In order to better understand how this enzyme works, Higgins will first determine the three-dimensional structure of GH98. From these structures, she will develop synthetic inhibitor molecules that keep GH98 from functioning. Her work will answer whether S. pneumoniae can still infect host cells and spread disease in the absence of GH98. If these inhibitors are proven effective, they could become a novel treatment for S. pneumoniae infections, providing clinicians more options for treating a number of bacterial diseases.
Canada’s public health system faces serious systemic challenges for adequately meeting the health needs of the population. To help guide a plan for improvement and renewal of public health services in BC, the BC Ministry of Health has developed a Framework for Core Functions in Public Health. This framework defines the core activities of a comprehensive public health system, and serves as the roadmap by which the province is planning and investing in public health services. By studying the implementation and outcomes of the Core Functions Framework, this team will contribute new knowledge for BC and Canada regarding ways for public health system renewal to improve population health, reduce health inequities, and better integrate with health services. This team received an MSFHR Team Planning Award in 2006. MSFHR’s Team Start Up grant will now support the team — which comprises academic researchers and key decision-makers at the provincial, regional, and national levels — to further develop its productivity and competitiveness.
Syphilis, caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, is a chronic bacterial infection with a global distribution. Although this sexually transmitted disease is 100 per cent curable with penicillin, syphilis remains a health threat, with an annual incidence rate of 12 million active infections. In BC, new cases are being reported at almost double the national rate. Unchecked, the infection can damage every tissue and organ in the body, including the brain. Equally troubling, syphilis infection drastically increases vulnerability to HIV infection. Treponema pallidum is a highly invasive pathogen; following attachment to host cells, the organism invades the tissue barrier and enters the circulatory system, resulting in widespread bacterial dissemination. Little is currently known about the mechanisms this bacterium uses to initiate and establish infection.
Dr. Caroline Cameron has the only laboratory in Canada conducting basic research on this bacterium. She is using cutting-edge proteomic technologies to study two molecules that enable the bacterium to attach itself to host cells lining the bloodstream – a critical step in the development of infection. By understanding these mechanisms, Cameron hopes to identify potential ways that scientists could interfere with adhesion and disrupt the infection process. Ultimately, her work could lead to development of a vaccine to prevent syphilis.
The number of Canadians older than 65 is steadily increasing, a trend that will continue over the next few decades. The prevalence of age-related disorders such as dementia is also increasing, along with the related need for personal care and treatment. Cognitive impairment adversely affects quality of life in late adulthood, limiting independence and survival. To examine these important health issues, Dr. Stuart MacDonald is studying factors related to age-related declines in cognitive performance. Part of his research employs existing data from a Swedish study (the Kungsholmen Project; http://www.kungsholmenproject.se/) to examine patterns and identify early predictors of cognitive decline. As the average age of the Swedish population far exceeds that of Canada, research on the Kungsholmen data may provide important insights that can help inform Canadian healthcare policy and prevention strategies.
Dr. MacDonald is also researching how performance for select measures of memory and intelligence is influenced by cognitive training across a period of weeks, as well as regular aerobic exercise (walking three times per week for 30 minutes) over a period of months. Dr. MacDonald's goal is to clearly demarcate the stages and transitions of cognitive decline from mild age-related impairment to more severe dementia deficits. This will help identify early warning signs of cognitive impairment from a broad range of predictors. The findings could lead to more effective prevention based on knowledge of these risk factors, including campaigns to promote health-smart behavior.
Ubiquitin is a small protein found in all cells containing a nucleus. A key function for this protein is ubiquitylation, the process by which ubiquitin attaches to target proteins to “mark” them for degradation (breaking down) and removal from the cell. Ubiquitylation is an important process for maintaining proper levels of cellular proteins and removing mis-folded proteins to ensure proper cellular function and to prevent disease. E3 Ub ligases are important regulators of the ubiquitylation process because they select the specific proteins (substrates) that are to be degraded. Itch is an E3 Ub ligase that is important in the immune system, as mice deficient in Itch (Itchy mice) develop a fatal autoimmune-like disease. The Jun transcription factors, c-Jun and JunB, are found to be deregulated in the T cells of these mice, and this is believed to contribute to the disease. These proteins are also important for the proper function of B cells and their deregulation has been implicated in some B cell cancers, such as Hodgkin lymphoma. Joel Pearson is determining whether Itch also regulates the Jun proteins in B cells, and how this may contribute to the autoimmune-like disease of Itchy mice. He is also investigating whether Itch regulates the Jun proteins in B and T cell lymphomas where these proteins are expressed at unusually high levels. His hypothesis is that Itch is an important regulator of the Jun proteins in B cells. Furthermore, he believes that Itch is also an important regulator of the Jun proteins in B and T cell lymphomas where these proteins are over-expressed. Understanding how the Jun proteins are regulated in these cells is important for understanding how the autoimmune-like disease of Itch-deficient mice may arise. Deregulation of the Jun proteins also contributes to the pathogenesis of some types of B and T cell lymphomas. Because of this, understanding how they are regulated is important for understanding how these cancers arise and persist. It could also lead to the development of novel ways to treat these cancers.
The nature of the relationship between a healthcare provider and an individual receiving care has an impact on the success of psychotherapy and drug therapy. A strong professional working relationship can not only enhance the effect of psychological and psychiatric interventions, but can be therapeutic in and of itself. This has even been found in the treatment of very serious psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Researchers have estimated that as least 30% of the effectiveness of psychotherapy and drug therapy can be accounted for by the quality of the professional relationship between an individual and his/her mental healthcare provider. There is a lack of understanding about the factors that are most important for developing a solid working relationship from the perspective of the individuals receiving the mental health services. Expanding upon research he conducted as a MSFHR trainee, Dr. Robinder (Rob) Paul Bedi is exploring this area. He is interviewing individuals currently receiving mental health services and analyzing the variables that they identify. The result: identifying the most common factors found to be essential in the development of positive therapeutic relationships. Bedi’s research aims to help mental healthcare providers develop strong working relationships with the individuals they treat, resulting in improved overall effectiveness of the mental health services that individuals receive.
Peer victimization — the experience of being a target of a peer’s hurtful teasing and aggressive behaviour — has major implications for adolescents’ mental health. It’s estimated that 15 to 27 per cent of adolescents are victimized by their peers and approximately 10 per cent of students face severe or chronic victimization by peers. Chronic and frequent victimization experiences can lead to increased levels of depression and anxiety among victimized adolescents and put them at risk for becoming more aggressive over time. Breaking the cycle of peer victimization is a priority; however less is known about the protective factors that will reduce levels of harmful outcomes associated with peer victimization. Rachel Yeung is investigating the associations between peer victimization and emotional and behavioural problems among adolescents across a four-year period. She is examining whether emotional support from parents, peers and teachers can moderate and protect against these harmful outcomes. Yeung will use data taken from a longitudinal Healthy Youth Survey, which followed 664 adolescents in an urban community via individual interviews. Yeung’s findings can support the importance of building existing support systems and fostering new relationships with parents, peers and teachers to prevent long term and negative mental health problems associated with peer victimization. This will also provide a basis for the development of effective prevention programs that aim to break the cycle of peer victimization and its harmful outcomes among older adolescents.
A working brain produces electrical activity that can be recorded at the scalp. An event-related potential (ERP) is a characteristic electrophysiological response to any specific category of stimulus or event. The P300 is an ERP associated with stimuli that must be attended. It has been suggested that the P300 may be a manifestation of functioning in the locus coeruleus – norepinephrine system (LC-NE system), a neuromodulatory system that is associated with arousal , vigilance and attention. A link has been suggested between cognitive deficits in the elderly and suboptimal activity in the LC-NE system. Christopher Warren is attempting to demonstrate the link between the P300 and the LC-NE system, and describe the related changes in the brain that occur with age. He is assessing the performance of elderly participants on a specific attentional task, while simultaneously recording the electrophysiological activity of their brain using electroencephalograph recording equipment. The data will be compared with a control group of younger participants. Chris is looking for specific, key differences in electrophysiological activity and behavioural performance between elderly participants and controls, which will support the link between the LC-NE system and the P300, and will allow inference as to how the LC-NE system is behaving in the elderly participants.. Chris’s results will describe, and possibly implicate suboptimal function of the LC-NE system in cognitive decline with age. This research has direct implications for understanding the cognitive decline associated with healthy aging, potentially describing the function and malfunction of the LC-NE system in aging populations. It could also generate a model that could be applied to understanding LC-NE function in people with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, dementia, schizophrenia, or traumatic brain injury. A comprehensive theory of the LC-NE system could inform the development of clinical strategies and tools to help elderly citizens effectively work around attention-related cognitive deficits that occur with age