Evaluation of the quality of supported employment programs' implementation in BC and of vocational outcomes of people with serious mental health problems

The World Health Organization estimates that 90 per cent of people with mental health problems who are ready to enter the workforce are unemployed. Dr. Marc Corbière is examining the factors that help people with a serious mental illness obtain and maintain a job. He is assessing factors such as self-esteem, social supports, past work experience, barriers to employment, psychiatric diagnosis, the severity of mental health problems and cognitive functions. Dr. Corbière is also evaluating the implementation of supported employment programs for people with mental illness in BC. This research will help programs tailor vocational support services to the needs of mental health consumers to ensure more people with mental illness are able to find and keep a job.

Stroke and hemispatial neglect: The efficacy of stimulus alerting on patient rehabilitation

Dr. Bettina Olk is interested in discovering new ways to rehabilitate patients who have suffered a stroke. Her research focuses on hemispatial neglect, a defective ability to perceive items in space opposite to the side of the brain affected by the stroke. For example, a right hemisphere stroke can cause a person to neglect items that appear on the left side. The person may fail to eat food on the left side of a plate or ignore cars coming from the left. During her research training in Germany and England, Bettina extensively studied the impairments caused by hemispatial neglect. Recent research suggests that a short warning tone can help the brain temporarily overcome this disorder and perceive items opposite the brain lesion. Bettina is studying this phenomenon to determine how long the effect lasts, what kind of warning tone works best, whether a different stimulus could be equally effective, and whether non-visual symptoms of hemispatial neglect are also affected. From this work, she hopes to develop effective ways for stroke patients to overcome the disorder.

Development and regulation of individual mammalian CNS synapses

A single central neuron can receive signals from up to 50,000 other neurons, which each connect to the central neuron across a synaptic junction. Dr. Timothy Murphy studies individual synapses in the mammalian central nervous system to determine how each contact develops and is regulated. The development and functioning of these individual connections are believed to be building blocks in creating and strengthening the neuronal networks for learning and memory. Dr. Murphy and his colleagues are investigating a number of aspects related to individual synapses. They include: the mechanisms that control the strength of synaptic transmissions at single contacts; the role of calcium in synapse development; the mechanisms that prevent excess calcium from flowing into neurons; and how different types of calcium channels in neurons react to specific and complex patterns of electrical signals in the brain. These basic insights into the behaviour of central nervous system synapses will be important for future diagnostics, as well as therapeutics for diseases of the central nervous system. For example, alterations in synaptic transmission play a role in the origins and treatment of stroke, depression, schizophrenia and epilepsy.

Glucosamine withdrawal study in Osteoarthritis

Affecting more than nine per cent of people over 63, osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease. Prevalence rises with age, so health care costs are expected to increase as our population ages. Glucosamine is a health food supplement that is widely promoted for treating osteoarthritis pain. Claims have been made that glucosamine may repair cartilage damage and cure osteoarthritis. Glucosamine use has risen dramatically as a result, but there is limited scientific evidence supporting these claims. Dr. Jolanda Cibere is conducting a study with patients taking glucosamine for knee osteoarthritis. Patients are randomly assigned to continue taking glucosamine or to receive identical-looking placebo tablets. Jolanda will assess whether people whose pain was relieved with glucosamine experience a flare up of pain when treatment stops. This research will provide insights about the effectiveness of glucosamine as a treatment for osteoarthritis pain.

Influences of proprioceptive illusions on human action

Research indicates that people can experience sensory illusions when visual and tactile information are spatially separated. This has important implications for telesurgery, a procedure that permits surgery to be performed at a distance, but where information from the touch of hands and visual information presented on a monitor are separate and feedback is delayed. Manipulating tools under these conditions has not been as precise as hoped for. Erin Austen’s research is studying how a misperception of limb position and movement can affect the ability to accurately grasp, reach or move objects. She is also identifying ways to minimize any negative impact of such sensory illusions. The results of this research will increase understanding of how the brain coordinates behaviour and will contribute to the design of new technology in telesurgery, prosthetic limbs, telerobotics used to perform actions from a distance, and miniaturized tools for minimally invasive surgical procedures.

Modulation of ligand-gated receptors by G protein-coupled receptors

Antipsychotic drugs for the treatment of schizophrenia work by blocking brain receptors for the neurotransmitter dopamine. An unusual interaction has been observed between dopamine receptors and GABAA receptors – another important type of brain receptor that inhibits brain cell activity. While these two receptors belong to two functionally different families of receptor, researchers have found that blocking dopamine receptors also reduces the number of GABAA receptors on the brain cell membrane surface. Dr. Tak Wong is studying the mechanisms by which the two receptors interact. Ultimately, he hopes to identify possible therapeutic targets that will allow better treatments for schizophrenia.

Cancer Genomics: Targeting genes activated during early stage lung cancer

While early detection is key to the successful treatment of many types of cancer, tumours still often go undetected and untreated until they are well advanced. Using information generated by the cancer genomics project at the BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre, Dr. Greg Vatcher’s research focuses on gene expression analysis-identifying genes that are activated in the earliest stages of cancer. He is hoping gene expression analysis can help detect tumours earlier. He is also conducting work to determine if tests can predict whether a person will develop cancer, based on pre-cancer genetic changes. Greg is bringing together information from multiple genomics projects, including data from the recently-completed Human Genome Project. For example, he’s taking genetic data being gathered on the normal aging process and relating it to his cancer study to determine if there are any common genetic components.

Molecular characterization of the virulence protein secretion machinery of Enteropathogenic E. coli

Enteropathogenic and Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli are disease-causing bacteria that cause severe diarrhoeal illness and death in young children and susceptible individuals. Often associated with hamburger disease, these bacteria are extremely dangerous when consumed, secreting proteins that cause cell disruption and damage to the human digestive tract. The resurgence of these bacteria in regional and rural water supplies also poses a considerable threat to the health of populations. Dr. Nikhil Thomas is working to improve the understanding of the mechanisms these bacteria use to cause disease. He aims to identify bacterial proteins that interact with each other to cause infection in the digestive tract. By understanding the mechanisms and strategies these disease-causing bacteria use, antimicrobials and treatments can be tested, with the ultimate goal of a vaccine to prevent disease.

Role of lipid rafts in AMPA receptor trafficking and synaptic plasticity

Brain cells communicate with one another by releasing chemical transmitters, which bind to receptors on the surface of neighbouring cells and cause them to become excited (switched on). One of the most important transmitters is glutamate, which plays a key role in learning and memory. However, the presence of too much glutamate in the brain (such as during a stroke) can lead to brain cell death. Dr. Changiz Taghibiglou is studying how lipid structures on the surface of brain cells – known as rafts – affect how glutamate is transmitted between cells. Floating on the cell membrane, lipid rafts contain channels and receptors that transmit brain cell signals. By conducting experiments that alter the composition of lipid rafts, Changiz hopes to better understand the role of lipid rafts in glutamate transmission and suggest possible ways to modulate the function of glutamate receptors and prevent cell death.

Role of Notch4 in angiogenesis

New blood vessels can grow from existing blood vessels in a process called angiogenesis. Limiting new blood vessel growth is a promising approach to treating cancer because tumours require a blood vessel supply to grow larger than two to three millimetres or to metastasize (spread) to other sites. But much remains to be learned about the molecular mechanisms of angiogenesis in tumours. In earlier research, Dr. Michela Noseda and colleagues have shown that a protein called Notch4 can inhibit angiogenesis. Notch arrests growth in the endothelial cells that line the inside of blood vessels, but it’s not known how this process occurs. In her current research project, Michela will investigate how the Notch protein prevents endothelial cells from proliferating. Ultimately, she wants to discover whether manipulating Notch activity in tumour blood vessels can induce tumour regression and limit metastasis.