Partnership opens the door to new schizophrenia research

By pointing the way to better diagnosis and treatment – and hopefully an eventual cure – research is vitally important to improving the lives of the more than 40,000 British Columbians living with schizophrenia.

“The only way schizophrenia is going to be ‘beat’ – if you will – in the long term is through more understanding, ranging from basic chemistry up to helping people cope in their day-to-day life,” says Gerhart Pahl, chair of the BC Schizophrenia Society Foundation*.

“We believe heavily in research, and for those of us who have the illness in our family, we are looking to research to someday beat this disease.”

Funding research is one of four areas of focus for the society and its foundation – along with education, advocacy, and support for families. This investment in research, which makes important contributions to the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of schizophrenia, is supported in part through a strategic partnership with MSFHR.

Since 2013, the two organizations have jointly funded three BC researchers whose work is helping to reveal the underlying mechanisms of schizophrenia and enhance the treatment of this devastating illness. The shared goal is ultimately to mitigate schizophrenia’s human and economic toll.

University of Victoria neuroscientist Dr. Leigh Anne Swayne, a 2014 MSFHR Scholar, is the latest beneficiary of this partnership.

Swayne’s research is focused on two main areas. The first is the role that complex proteins called ion channels play in brain development, injury, and repair. The second is how these same ion channels transmit the electrical signals that underlie the beating of the heart and how mutations in the proteins in the ion channel can lead to certain heart conditions.

“Increasing our understanding of the roles of ion channels in the developing brain might give us further insights into neuro-developmental diseases such as schizophrenia and autism,” Swayne says.

“I’m very excited about this award, most importantly the positive impact it will have on my research program.”

“We essentially double what we can do”

For the BC Schizophrenia Society and its supporting foundation, the partnership helps stretch donor contributions even further through the availability of matching funds.

“If there was a project that needed a hundred thousand dollars, we would have to come up with a hundred thousand dollars,” says Pahl. “But now, with our relationship, we would perhaps pay fifty thousand dollars, and the Michael Smith Foundation would fund the other fifty.

“We essentially double what we can do, so this is a very enticing and important part for us.”

Pahl also notes that partnering with MSFHR allows the society to support research without having to organize a peer-reviewed competition and coordinate award administration, both of which can be nearly impossible for small organizations with limited resources to conduct effectively.

“We don’t have this expertise and capability, but we still wish to continue funding research. It is important to us,” Pahl says. He adds that the partnership with MSFHR, which provides this expertise, provides assurance that these critical components of the research funding process will be carried out in a thorough and professional manner.

The BC Schizophrenia Society was founded in 1982 by families and friends of people with schizophrenia. Since then, the society has grown into a province-wide family support system with 24 branches and more than 2,800 members.

In addition to supporting research through partnership with MSFHR, the society has also raised the funds to endow the schizophrenia research chair at UBC.

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* Note: The BC Schizophrenia Society Foundation raises funds for schizophrenia-related research and the programs and services offered by the BC Schizophrenia Society.