Unravelling the complexity of familial influences that shape children’s obesity-related behaviors over time

The transition from elementary to secondary school is a challenging time for children as many obesity-related behaviors tend to worsen in this period. My research will examine how the familial environment can support a healthy transition; specifically, how parenting practices influence children’s choices with respect to diet, physical activity and sedentary time. I will first synthesize the published literature about how mothers’ and fathers’ parenting practices relate to children’s obesity-related behaviors. To gather real-world data, I will then use a combination of interviews, surveys, and wearable tech (accelerometers) with 150 British Columbian families to assess their parenting practices and children’s obesity-related behaviors daily for 14 consecutive days during elementary school, and again in secondary school. These data will be analyzed to identify how variations in parenting practices affect children’s behaviors day-to-day before and after the school transition, and the interviews will help understand more deeply how familial factors influence children’s behaviors. Together, my findings will guide the development of parenting interventions to help children maintain healthy behaviors during adolescence.

Buddy Up for men’s mental health: Engaging men through mutual help and social connection

Approximately one in five men struggle with mental health challenges each year; however, men often experience unique barriers that prevent them from seeking help or accessing treatment. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed additional pressure on many men and efforts are urgently needed to tailor services and norm men’s mental health help-seeking. While asking for help may be viewed by some men as a sign of weakness, helping others is often perceived as a strength that aligns with masculine ideals. By emphasizing the benefits of mutual help, it may be possible to equip men with the skills and confidence to support other men’s mental health challenges, as well as their own. The aims of this research are to explore men’s mutual help for mental health challenges and develop an online intervention to promote mental health and social connection through shared activities (e.g. physical activity). We will conduct interviews with Canadian men and use the findings to inform the development of the e-intervention. Men will be recruited to test the intervention and provide feedback. Findings will provide important information about men’s mutual help for mental health challenges and opportunities to norm mental health promotion.

Making room at the table: Understanding the mealtime experiences of racialized residents and their families in long-term care

Mealtimes in long-term care (LTC) homes are important for visible minority (e.g. Chinese, South Asian) residents’ well-being and keeps them connected with their families who help at mealtimes. Visiting restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic meant that some families could not provide mealtime care which had negative effects on residents and families. There is very little research on the mealtime experience for visible minority residents and families and even less on their experiences during the pandemic, even though almost one-quarter of Canadians are from a visible minority group. It is important to understand these experiences to improve mealtimes in LTC homes. This qualitative study will answer the question: what are the mealtime experiences of visible minority residents and their families in LTC? The objectives of this study are to: 1) understand the mealtime experiences of visible minority residents and their families; 2) understand how these mealtime experiences are impacted by social, political, and economic factors; 3) identify ways to improve mealtime care for visible minority residents and families; and 4) share the research findings with stakeholders to improve mealtime care in LTC homes.

Determination of the optimal SARS-CoV-2 vaccination strategy to achieve a robust and long-lasting immune response

Global COVID-19 vaccine distribution has been inequitable, with high-income countries afforded widespread access to vaccines and boosters, while among the low-income countries only 2 percent of individuals are vaccinated. Consequently, over 50 percent of the world’s population remains unvaccinated. Fortunately, however, data from vaccinated cohorts can inform the most efficient and effective community-level vaccination strategies for the unvaccinated populations. Currently approved mRNA vaccines were initially tested with dosing intervals of 21-28 days; however, this may lead to suboptimal immunity. Further, data informing the optimal timing and frequency of booster doses is lacking. This project will answer critical questions regarding the optimal vaccination strategies to achieve a robust long-lasting immune response. In this study I will employ data from a prospective national cohort of adult paramedics, providing sociodemographic data and serum blood samples. I will identify the optimal vaccination strategies to achieving a robust immune response at 12, 18 and 24 months, including examining differences between sex, race, and age. These data will inform ongoing global vaccination efforts, to maximize efficiency and long-term protection.

Impact of a combined exercise and counselling intervention on mental health in people with spinal cord injury who live with chronic pain: A psychobiological approach

People with spinal cord injury (SCI) who live with chronic pain report poorer mental health (e.g. depression and anxiety symptoms) than those without disability. Poor mental health can further limit social participation (including employment) and physical functioning, and increase the use of health care services. Therefore, there is a need for safe, accessible, and affordable strategies to improve pain and mental health in this population. Exercise may be an effective strategy, but it’s not known if people with SCI living with chronic pain also benefit. Forty-two adults with SCI reporting chronic pain will receive a personalized exercise prescription and weekly exercise counselling. An equal group will go on a waitlist. After six months, we will test for differences in mental health between the groups, and if changes in fitness, pain or social factors can explain these differences. We will interview participants to gather their perspectives on the program, and what we can do better to improve mental health. This study will be the first to test if exercising improves mental health, how much exercise is needed, and the processes by which exercise may improve mental health in people living with SCI and chronic pain.

In vitro diagnostics for frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a group of devastating brain diseases associated with progressive decline in behavior, language, and movement. FTD is the second most common form of dementia in those under 65 years of age. In the early stages of diseases when symptoms are very mild, FTD can be difficult to identify as its symptoms are similar to other neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, a reliable biofluid test is needed to help with early and accurate diagnosis of FTD. In this project, I will use state-of-the-art analytical techniques to develop a diagnostic test that can identify individuals with FTD. I will examine how the test performs in individuals with FTD compared to other diseases that have similar symptoms to FTD. This project will result in the creation of new diagnostic tests for the early detection of FTD. Early and accurate diagnosis of dementia is critical to ensure efficient access to medical care and social programs and will help researchers in developing new treatments for FTD.

The relationship between the cortico-reticulospinal tract and motor function in stroke survivors

Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability in Canada that causes movement impairments on one side of the body. In cases of severe movement impairment, there is often extensive damage to the primary descending motor pathway in the brain originating from the opposite side of the body. When this pathway is damaged, secondary motor pathways are altered which may support recovery in these individuals. Several of these secondary motor pathways originate from the same side of the brain as the impaired limb and are therefore undamaged in cases of stroke. My research aims to comprehensively investigate the role of the secondary motor pathways in motor function with chronic stroke survivors that have severe movement impairments. This research will use a combination of state-of-the-art brain stimulation and brain imaging techniques to gain novel insight into the relationship between the secondary motor pathways and the control of voluntary movement. My research will provide valuable insight into the role of the alternative motor pathways. In turn this information can be used in clinical practice to implement rehabilitation strategies that lead to better recovery and improved quality of life in individuals with severe strokes.

Cryo-EM studies of activators and inhibitors of KCNQ1 and KCNQ1:KCNE1 channel complexes

Type 1 Long QT syndrome (LQT1) and Short QT syndrome (SQT) result in life-threatening irregular heartbeats that can cause sudden death. LQT1 affects around 1 in 2,500 adults, whereas SQT may impact twice as many individuals, with high prevalence of congenital LQT in a First Nations community in Northern BC. Current treatments are inefficient and therefore, new therapeutic strategies are needed. Abnormalities of the protein, KCNQ1, result in these diseases. Normal KCNQ1 function moves charged ions through heart membranes. We generally know how KCNQ1 functions in health and disease; however, the exact mechanisms are not yet fully understood. We need to study the 3D structural changes that happen to KCNQ1 in the presence of certain compounds to understand how KCNQ1 functions. I will study the 3D structures of such complexes by using cryo-electron microscopy, a technique to study structural biology, and functional characterization. The new knowledge that will be produced will help better understand how such proteins cause disease and lead to new therapeutics for better human health.

Transforming prisons and improving health outcomes for people who use drugs: An evaluation of BC’s prison-based therapeutic community

People with substance use disorders (SUD) are more likely than those without SUD to be sent to prison and to experience negative outcomes after release. Prisons are not typically ideal environments to treat complex health issues including SUD. Therapeutic communities (TCs) offer an alternative to traditional forms of punishment, providing the environment for belonging and relationship-building, through activities such as group-based therapy, education/work, and community participation. The proposed study will evaluate Guthrie House, BC’s first and only prison-based TC which opened in 2007 at Nanaimo Correctional Centre. The study aims to identify the TC-related mechanisms of change associated with health and criminal justice outcomes, and will involve three main components: a survey with TC clients, interviews with TC and correctional staff, and linked administrative data analyses. This study has the potential to identify promising approaches to supporting people with SUD who experience incarceration. This work will add meaningfully to the policy initiatives in BC focused on reducing overdose and increasing access to SUD care.

Post-transcriptional regulation of hematopoietic stem cell function during normal and malignant hematopoiesis

In 2016, there were approximately 22,510 Canadians living with leukemia and an estimated 2,900 Canadians died from leukemia. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is one of the most common types of leukemia in adults. About 30 percent of AML patients eventually relapse after treatment and suffer from very poor overall survival at this stage. It is postulated that leukemia stem cells (LSCs), a small population of leukemia cells characterized with regenerative ability, mediate resistance and relapse after therapy. My work sought to uncover the largely unknown role of the processes that control protein generation in maintaining blood stem cells and how it contributes to transformation of leukemia stem cells in cancer. This research program aims to identify new factors, which can serve as targetable molecules and pathways to specifically eliminate leukemia cells while sparing normal cells. The work will provide the scientific foundation for future developments of therapy targeting these pathways as a novel strategy in eradicating leukemia stem cells to improve outcomes in AML patients.