Mapping the musical brain in dementia

Music is an important part of life for individuals with dementia and their loved ones. Numerous clinical studies have detailed music’s positive effects on quality of life in dementia care, however, much is still unknown about how music is processed in the brain, and how the brain adapts to neurodegeneration in dementia to maintain a connection to music. This is an important unanswered question as many assessment tools do not allow us to look at brain activity with persons with dementia in a way that is enjoyable and accessible to the individual. This project will record brain data during music listening and analyze the resulting brain network data for age- and diagnosis-related patterns. Music helps stimulate memories and promotes social interaction with loved ones, making it a beneficial addition to the lives of individuals with dementia. However, much still needs to be discovered about how and why music works. This study will provide information that can help improve access to music-based therapies for individuals with dementia in BC and will give researchers a greater understanding of brain adaptation in dementia.

3D bioprinting patient-derived neural tissues for screening potential treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia and continues to affect more people globally due to the aging population. AD currently has no treatment or prevention options aside from symptom alleviation, making it a high priority in medical research. Despite years of research, no AD treatments have been discovered since most studies have used tissue replicas (or models) that do not accurately act like the brain. This has led to presumed success of treatments in research, but failure in clinical testing in animal models. The use of three-dimensional (3D) models that contain brain cells organized in a more accurate 3D structure will allow for a better understanding of AD, which is the focus of this work. In addition, these 3D models can include patient cells to provide specific treatment options for those with AD. The patient-specific AD models will be used to test various drugs, including those with current approval for other diseases. The proposed research will provide new insight into AD treatments by using more accurate AD models to better understand this complex disease in research. The 3D tissue models will allow for better screening of treatment options, ultimately bringing us closer to finding a cure for AD.

The impact of SARS-CoV-2 infection/COVID-19 and microglial contribution on the development and severity of Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) globally affects 1 in 100 adults above 60. Exposure to environmental agents including viral infection increases vulnerability to PD. Hyperactivity of brain immune cells named microglia is also a strong determinant of PD onset and progression. Altered brain functions persist in patients during and after COVID-19. Evidence in the brains of patients who died of COVID-19 show dysfunctional microglia in brain areas affected by PD. These abnormal microglia were also observed in infected monkeys without breathing difficulty. In BC, where above 89% of total SARS-CoV-2 cases do not require hospitalization, older adults totaling 41% of the population, account for 31% of total cases. In mice, SARS-CoV-2 failed to multiply in microglia but initiated robust deleterious microglial functions, which were intensified by the exposure to PD-associated abnormal proteins. Thus, we propose that COVID-19 may precipitate PD onset or exacerbate its progression. We aim to study the impact of COVID-19 pathology on PD onset/progression and microglial implication in a mouse model expressing the human receptors of SARS-COV-2. This study will inform on COVID-19 long-term effects and may position microglia as a future therapeutic target.

Coordinating movement in a complex world: How the midbrain and oculomotor cerebellum encode visual motion originating from realistic scenes to guide locomotion.

As we move about the world, we experience optic flow – the movement of surfaces and objects resulting from self-motion. Studies of human behavior have shown that optic flow is critical for controlling posture, walking, driving, and navigating complex environments. Deficits in optic flow processing are linked to diseases including vertigo, oscillopsia, ataxias, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Determining how and where the brain processes optic flow is therefore crucial to human health and behavior, but major gaps in knowledge remain. Typically, optic flow processing is studied by exposing subjects to simple patterns. These methods allow for tight control of experimental designs, but simple patterns lack features provided by the real world – features we use every day. How and where the brain encodes realistic visual motion to control our movement is almost entirely unknown. This severely limits our ability to treat those with optic flow deficits. This proposal aims to understand how and where the brain processes visual motion originating from realistic scenes using pigeons as a model system.

Multisensory integration in aging and Alzheimer’s disease

As people age, their senses become less sharp. Healthy older adults can combine information from different senses, such as hearing and vision, to make up for this. Alzheimer’s disease attacks the areas of the brain that combine sensory information. Because of this, Alzheimer’s disease patients may lose the ability to compensate for reduced sensation. This could explain why Alzheimer’s disease patients have a much larger risk of serious falls.

For my project, I will study the brain activity involved in combining information across different senses. I will record brain activity from healthy young adults, healthy older adults, and Alzheimer’s disease patients. The participants will perform a task requiring them to quickly and accurately combine visual and auditory information. I will compare recordings from the different groups to see how aging and Alzheimer’s disease affect the brain activity.

The information I learn from my project will inform approaches to treatment and accommodation. My ultimate goal is to help people live fuller, more independent lives as long as possible.

Novel Bayesian phylogenetic methods for understanding HIV evolution within and between host

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) the cause of AIDS continues to affect 40 million people worldwide. To tackle the HIV pandemic, we need to develop sophisticated tools that will increase our understanding of HIV. I plan to develop new tools for understanding HIV combining phylogenetic trees and Bayesian methods. A phylogenetic tree records the ancestral relationships of viruses, like a family tree of viruses. Bayesian methods are advanced statistical techniques that achieve more accurate results over traditional methods. First, I will create better tools for making diagrams of phylogenetic trees with computer software. These diagrams will make it easier for scientists to present their findings and interpret others’ results. Second, I will develop a Bayesian method to characterize the spread of HIV while protecting individuals’ identities. This will facilitate targeted intervention to stifle HIV transmission within the community. Finally, I will compare the effectiveness of different techniques to determine the make up of the infecting virus of an individual living with HIV by looking at the characteristics of their HIV. Overall, my new methods will help complete our understanding of HIV and bring an end to the HIV pandemic.

Women and Forced Migration: Inclusively Examining Access to Care at the Axes of Chronic Health and Gender-Based Violence

Forced migration occurs when people are displaced from their homes to escape harmful situations including human rights violations, and/or environmental disasters. Currently, over 40 million women and girls have been forced to migrate worldwide. Most have been racially discriminated and over 70% have been exposed to gender-based violence (GBV) including human and sex trafficking, exploitation, and forced marriage. Health impacts of GBV include chronic health issues including hypertension, diabetes, and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Canada’s population of women forced to migrate is steadily growing. However, access to timely and appropriate health services remains uncoordinated and ineffective. Upon arrival to Canada, women are left to self-navigate exclusionary and fragmented pathways to health care while also managing the effects of forced migration. In this research, the experiences of these women will be gathered and examined toward generating recommendations for enhanced access to safe and effective health care. This project responds to national and global calls to address a significant gap in knowing how to deliver timely and safe care to women impacted by forced migration and managing the chronic health sequelae of GBV.

Exploring oncology care providers’ treatment decision making and its impacts on individuals who are highly marginalized with cancer

Due to racism, discrimination, stigma, mental illness and substance use issues, and homelessness, highly marginalized adults tend to die alone, in pain, with their needs unmet, and sometimes of preventable and treatable cancers. Cancer is the leading cause of death for highly marginalized adults. Oncology care providers play a critical role in providing culturally safe, effective care that aligns with individuals’ needs, but, issues such as unstable housing, transportation barriers, mental health and substance use issues can create conditions where oncology care providers are placed in a position of making treatment decisions that are challenging because, if highly marginalized adults do come to the cancer clinic, their treatments often dictate a regimen that is difficult to follow. This study will explore the factors that oncology care providers consider when making decisions about cancer care treatments for highly marginalized adults. Results will inform the development of clinical practice guidelines to support oncology care providers’ decision-making when making treatment decisions for adults who are highly marginalized.

Strengthening safety nets to improve access to substance use and mental health services to optimize youth-determined health and wellness

Despite an increasing trend in the number of youth with substance use disorders in BC, current data shows that voluntary, community-based, and youth-friendly support services are lacking. My project aims to address this gap by learning from youth who have had their lives impacted by substance use. By engaging with youth as co-researchers in this project, I will better understand their diverse hopes, wishes and ideas for accessible, non-judgmental, and culturally centered substance use and mental health services.

First, I will establish a leadership circle that engages a diverse group of Indigenous, non-Indigenous, immigrant and refugee, 2SLGBTQIA+, and pregnant/parenting youth, who receive(d) services from our local partners, the Foundry Victoria Youth Clinic Society (VYCS) and Surrounded by Cedars Child and Family Services. We will co-create a shared vision for meaningful and accessible substance use and mental health services, grounded in each person’s own experience and recommendations. This vision will be translated into an intervention to pilot, implement, and evaluate at Foundry VYCS and inform later implementation with the Foundry Network in British Columbia.

An investigation of the healthcare and psychosocial experiences of racialized youth living with serious and life threatening illnesses

We live in a diverse Canadian society that is quickly growing in social and cultural representation. A national survey conducted in Canada in 2016 estimated that children with at least one parent that was born outside of Canada is expected to make up almost half of the total population of children in Canada by 2036. With growing diversity, it is important for us to gain a full understanding of how children’s social and cultural background can influence their health care experiences and identify any disadvantages or barriers some may face in their care are because of their backgrounds. The goal of this project is to better understand the health care experiences of racialized children and adolescents living with serious and life threatening illness, and to explore social and cultural reasons that may influence their understanding of and engagement in their care and well-being. This information will allow us to plan future care so that they best support the needs of youth with mental health and physical health concerns from all social and cultural backgrounds.