The use of tobacco, alcohol and marijuana by teenagers continues to pose a significant threat to the health of many young Canadians. Recent national surveys indicate that 18 per cent of Canadian teens smoke tobacco daily or occasionally and one-third of all teens have tried marijuana more than once, with about eight per cent of teens using it at least once a week. Just over 44 per cent of teens reported drinking one to three times each month, with an additional 17 per cent of teens aged 15 to 17 drinking one to three times a week or more. Despite extensive prevention efforts, the use of these substances appears to have become a somewhat normalized part of adolescence. The goal of Dr. Richardson’s program of research is to improve our understanding of why adolescents are using these substances, and in so doing, facilitate the development of more effective interventions. For example, Dr. Richardson will be using an internet-based web survey to collect information every six months from a large group of adolescents to examine how the influence of known risk factors for substance use, such as peer influences and psychological characteristics related to risk taking, change as the students’ progress through high school. Dr. Richardson hopes this research will enable researchers to identify specific longitudinal patterns (i.e., trajectories) of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use and examine how the influence of known risk factors change as adolescents progress through the secondary school system. In addition to improving our understanding of the different patterns of substance use, this research will contribute to the development of individually tailored prevention and harm reduction interventions that can be delivered over the internet.
This platform provides the governance and operations strategy to support the creation of the BC BioLibrary to ensure that researchers across the province have access to the highest quality biological specimens to support studies to expand our understanding of health, as well as the origins, course and treatment of disease. It brings together a network of advocates, researchers, clinicians, ethicists and information technology professionals whose goal is to improve access to biological specimens, such as tumour samples, within a framework that supports appropriate standards of quality, security, ethics and privacy in relation to the collection, storage and use of these specimens. The goal is to ensure that high quality, standardized biological materials are available to support the full range of research applications, including clinical trials, drug discovery, biomedical imaging technologies, proteomics, genomics, metabolomics and population-based outcome studies.
Approximately 4 percent of Canadian children are diagnosed with Attention–Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Their symptoms pose significant coping challenges for the child as well as for the parents and are often comorbid with other mental health problems. Indeed, the greatest impairment appears to occur in families of children who have not only ADHD, but also comorbid disorders. However, family factors associated with disorders comorbid with ADHD have received relatively little attention in past studies, with most studies focusing on comorbid oppositional or conduct problems, and few studies examining comorbid anxiety disorders in children with ADHD. Sharon Lee is studying parenting practices associated with childhood ADHD and co-occuring anxiety disorders, She will be comparing parent-child interactions in children with ADHD and comorbid anxiety, children with each disorder alone, and a control group. Analyses will examine how parental responsiveness relates to child comorbid anxiety over and above parental levels of anxiety. This research will help us to understand how parenting style may be related to comorbid anxiety in children with ADHD and such knowledge will be useful in tailoring the empirically-supported parenting interventions used for childhood ADHD to more fully account for the presence of comorbid anxiety.
The immune system must strike a balance between fighting off illness and infection and damaging tissues in the body. If the balance swings too far in either direction, the results can be disastrous. Over-stimulation of the immune system can result in tissue damage, low blood pressure, organ failure and death. A good example is toxic shock syndrome, which occurs when an enormous overreaction by the immune system triggers a rapid drop in blood pressure, leading to multiple organ failure. Mortality is as high as 30 to 40 per cent Researchers recently suggested that this type of reaction may explain, in part, why the 1918 flu epidemic was so deadly. A protein called LL-37 is involved in healing wounds and growing new blood vessels, a process that is vital for repairing damaged tissue. Niall Filewod is investigating whether or not LL-37 can help calm an activated immune system. Thus diminishing the effect of excessive immune responses and protecting the body from toxic shock. If so, this research could lead to new drugs to treat conditions ranging from sepsis to arthritis that result from immune system reactions gone awry.
Injection drug use has significant health consequences, including high rates of HIV and hepatitis C transmission. These problems have been exacerbated in recent years by the use of crystal methamphetamine (commonly called crystal meth), particularly in BC. Methamphetamine use is becoming increasingly common among marginalized youth, particularly those whose social and economic environment is the street. It is estimated there are between 45,000 to 150,000 street-involved youth in Canada, most of whom live in the large urban centres of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Illicit drug use and unsafe sexual practices, including unprotected sex and sex trade work, increase susceptibility to HIV infection among street-involved youth. Brandon Marshall is one of the few researchers investigating the relationship between illicit drug use and sexual risk behaviours among street-involved youth. Using data collected from the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS At-Risk Youth Study, he will examine how different social, structural, and environmental factors impact sexual practices. Specific factors include the age of first sexual experience, sexual orientation, illicit drug use, sexual relationships with older partners, access to health services, and involvement in the Downtown Eastside community of Vancouver, where drug use and poverty are prominent. This research will improve our understanding of illicit drug use and sexual activity in marginalized youth and will play an important role in developing sexual health education and prevention programs for youth at-risk.
Almost 200,000 thousand workers are hurt on the job every year in BC. The majority of incidents involve musculoskeletal injuries, with back injuries accounting for approximately 25 per cent of all work claims. To reduce the occurrence of back injuries, we need a better understanding of the aspects of a job that are associated with the risk of injury. Most research is done with a small sample of workers in a controlled test environment. However, in order to have representative and generalizable results about the risk of injury, researchers require exposure data on large numbers of individuals at work so that relationships can be observed. To do this, they need accurate, inexpensive and easy-to-use tools to take out into the field. Spinal compression is a major risk factor for back injury. Robin Van Driel’s research is investigating the potential of estimating spinal compression by using an inclinometer (usually used for posture analysis), instead of the traditional electromyography method, to measure spinal compression among workers in five heavy industries in BC. By developing a better understanding of the work factors associated with the risk of injury, this research will help reduce the large personal and economic burden associated with low back disorders, and could be applied to many other occupational groups with similar risk factors.
Research has identified a genetic defect in the HD gene that causes Huntington’s disease, a devastating and ultimately fatal neuropsychiatric disease. Symptoms include progressive deterioration in the ability to control movements and emotions, recall recent events or make decisions, and leads to death 15 to 20 years after onset. One in 10,000 Canadians has HD. There is neither a cure nor treatments to prevent Huntington disease. Several years ago Dr. Hayden and his team discovered that huntingtin, the protein involved in Huntington disease (HD), is cleaved by ‘molecular scissors’ which are proteins called caspases. This discovery led to the hypothesis that cleavage of huntingtin may play a key role in causing HD. To explore the role of huntingtin cleavage in the disease process, we established an animal model of HD that replicated the key disease features seen in patients. A unique aspect of this particular animal model is that it embodied the human HD gene in exactly the same way seen in patients. This replication allowed researchers to examine the progression of HD symptoms including the inevitable cleavage of the mutant huntingtin protein. Dr. Rona Graham is continuing her earlier MSFHR-funded research into understanding the reason why the mutant form of the HD gene causes death of particular neurons in the brain. Her Masters and PhD work demonstrated that preventing cleavage of the mutant huntingtin protein responsible for HD in a mouse model, the degenerative symptoms underlying the illness do not appear and the mouse displays normal brain function. Dr. Graham’s goal now is to investigate the role of caspase activation and the caspase-6 cleaved huntingtin fragment in the disease process. Since a similar splitting of disease proteins is involved in many other central nervous system diseases including Alzheimer’s and Spinocerebellar ataxia (which causes progressive deterioration in hand, speech and eye movement) Dr. Graham hopes the findings will lead to new treatments for other neurological disorders as well as HD.
Psychotropic medications like benzodiazepines (tranquilizers used to control anxiety) and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (antidepressants used to treat depression) are frequently prescribed during pregnancy to manage depression and anxiety, even though these drugs have not been approved for this purpose, and the impact on infant development is unclear. These drugs increase the activity of certain chemicals in the brain that inhibit nerve cell activity. Whitney Weikum is expanding on her earlier MSFHR-funded research on language development in infants. Now Weikum is studying the effects of prenatal exposure to psychotropic drugs on critical periods of infant language development. During the first years of life, infants rapidly and almost effortlessly acquire language. There appear to be a number of discrete periods critical for acquiring language information. At birth, infants have the ability to discriminate almost all the distinctive sounds from the world’s languages. Weikum is testing infants’ responses to different language sounds at 36 weeks gestation, as newborns, and during the first year to learn whether psychotropic drugs affect cognitive and language development. The results will be compared to women who experienced depression, but did not take medication, to determine the impact of depression alone on infants’ language development. The goal is to help women and physicians make informed decisions about whether to use psychotropic medications during pregnancy.
Recognizing facial expressions and identities plays a crucial role in daily life. People who have experienced damage to identity recognition regions of the brain due to stroke, trauma or other causes are unable to recognize the identity of faces, often including their own. People with damage to regions involved in expression recognition have difficulty interpreting expressions, which leads to social mistakes. Problems in expression recognition may have a role in autism and other social developmental disorders. Studies have suggested that specific brain regions are primarily involved in either facial identity recognition or facial expression recognition. However, recent studies, including research Christopher Fox has contributed to, suggest the two are not restricted to independent regions. Fox is designing a series of psychophysical tests to determine the extent of the overlap and using functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity in both healthy individuals and those who have experienced brain damage. Fox aims to determine whether an area of the brain previously thought of solely as an expression recognition region is also able to process facial identity. The research could lead to new therapies for people with facial recognition disorders. Fox was funded as a 2005 trainee award recipient for research on the role of the temporal lobes in vision and the process of visual perception.
With population growth, an aging population, and an aging and supply-limited workforce of health professionals, British Columbia is challenged to sustain its current levels of health services in the face of unprecedented demand. In this context, the use of valid health outcome measures (OMs) is important to evaluate and improve the results of various interventions for health professionals with musculoskeletal injury (MSI)-related disabilities. Prevention and Early Active Return-to-work Safely (PEARS) is a primary (injury prevention) and secondary (physiotherapy for MSIs) program designed to reduce disability in healthcare workers who have sustained a workplace injury. Outcome measures used in the program pilot included Activity-level self-report disability questionnaires. With expansion of PEARS across BC, only Participation-level outcomes like time-loss duration and level of return-to-work were retained. Currently, few physiotherapists in PEARS are using disability measures, limiting ability to measure effectiveness of the secondary prevention component of the program. This further limits ability to improve outcomes through predictive modeling and examining effectiveness of the variety of available treatments. Allan Kozlowski is evaluating a training program intended to promote the adoption of self-report outcome measures by PEARS program physiotherapists. In addition to information about how to use the OMs, individual- and organizational-level barriers will be identified and addressed. The objective is to demonstrate that physiotherapists can measure disability outcomes as part of their practice without diminishing patient service. Implications of this work include enhanced decision-making for individual patients, identifying ‘best-practice’ treatments, managing distribution of resources within health authorities, and development of enhanced predictive modeling of outcomes, all of which would contribute to a viable and sustainable health care system.