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For the past 10 years, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has supported better health and health care for Canadians. As the Government of Canada's health research investment agency, CIHR enables the creation of evidence-based knowledge and its transformation into improved treatments, prevention and diagnoses, new products and services, and a stronger, patient-oriented health-care system. Composed of 13 internationally recognized Institutes, CIHR supports more than 13,600 health researchers and trainees across Canada. Through CIHR, the Government of Canada invested approximately $211.1 million in 2009–10 for neuroscience, mental health and addiction related research.
- At any moment in time, 1 in 50 Canadians is dealing with a major depression, a condition that affects 1 in 20 people over a year and 1 in 10 over a lifetime.1
- Relatively more people in lower-income households – where job strain, financial problems, personal stress and relationship problems are all more prevalent – experience episodes of high psychological distress than those in higher-income households.2
- Almost 2% of Canadians have tried Salvia – an herb that can cause hallucinations or other delusions – at some point.3
- After cannabis (10.6%), cocaine or crack (1.2%) was the illicit drug most commonly used by Canadians 15 and older in the past 12 months in 2009, followed by ecstasy (0.9%), hallucinogens (0.7%) and speed (0.4%).4
- Statistics Canada: The Daily, Study: A profile of clinical depression in Canada
- Statistics Canada: The Daily, Study: Income and psychological distress
- Health Canada: Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey, Summary of Results for 2009
Anti-anxiety prescriptions often over-renewed
Anti-anxiety drugs are commonly prescribed over a long-term, despite an increased risk of dependency if they are taken for extended periods. A CIHR-funded project found that benzodiazepines – marketed as Xanax and Ativan – have been prescribed to 8.4% of B.C.'s population. Dr. Colleen Cunningham, lead researcher for the study released by the University of British Columbia Centre for Health Services and Policy Research, told the Vancouver Sun that 3.5 % were given long-term prescriptions.
Stroke breakthrough: keeping cells alive even if blood flow stops
A research team led by Dr. Michael Tymianski, a neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hospital, has found a way to suppress an ion channel called TRPM7 to keep rats' brain cells alive when blood flow is interrupted. The findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, could help prevent the devastating effects caused by stroke, in which the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients and cells die. The study was supported by CIHR funding.
Can't quit cigarettes? It could be your liver
Why do some people find it so much harder to quit smoking than others? The answer may have less to do with will power and lots to do with a liver enzyme activated by a gene called CYP2A6. Dr. Rachel Tyndale, a neuroscientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, has shown that people with more active forms of the gene have a faster metabolism and clear nicotine from their system quicker – which means they need another nicotine fix more urgently than most. Dr. Tyndale, whose research was recently featured in More magazine, is using her findings to help choose the right smoking cessation treatment for individual smokers and investigating drugs that can curb fast metabolism as a novel smoking cessation treatment.
Exposure therapy can make past trauma less terrifying
Dr. Gordon Asmundson of the University of Regina compares a patient who undergoes exposure therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to a sailor who guides his craft right into the storm in order to come out the other side in calm water. Exposure therapy "involves revisiting situations where the trauma occurred or the stimuli associated with the trauma," says Dr. Asmundson. This can mean writing about the trauma and then "working through it over and over again." Other variations include exposing patients to the bodily sensations of anxiety – for example, having them breathe through a straw to feel short of breath – to recreate what they experienced during the trauma and frequently re-experience in PTSD. "They learn that the sensations associated with anxiety, while discomforting, aren't necessarily harmful."
Managing depression vital to dealing with chronic illness
Dr. Jeffrey Johnson of the University of Alberta has shown that younger adults who develop type 2 diabetes often have depressive episodes before the onset of the blood sugar disease. Being depressed can sometimes cause people to neglect their health, resulting in a chronic condition like diabetes. Working with the Alliance for Canadian Health Outcome Research in Diabetes, Dr. Johnson is screening people in primary care networks who have diabetes for depressive symptoms. Those who test positive are invited to enrol in a controlled study to find ways to help them address their depression and manage their health more effectively.
Bone marrow stem cells recruited to fight Alzheimer's disease
A team led by Dr. Serge Rivest of Laval University is working on a new way to eliminate the brain plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease – the most common form of dementia. In the disease, immune cells known as microglia appear to be incapable of properly clearing the plaques. Dr. Rivest's team is using bone marrow stem cells to produce microglia that can do the job. They identified a receptor, called CCR2 that appears to be deficient in bone-marrow-derived microglia of Alzheimer's patients. Having tracked how CCR2 works, Rivest's next challenge will be to genetically modify stem cells to express the receptor for potential transplantation in Alzheimer patients.
For More Information
From diseases of the central nervous system (e.g. Alzheimer's disease), to addiction, to mental ill health (e.g. schizophrenia) and to the five senses through which we interpret the world, the CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction (CIHR-INMHA) is concerned with how the brain works and with finding new ways to improve the outcomes of brain-related illnesses, which are recognized internationally as leading causes of life-long disability. To learn more about these priorities and other CIHR-INMHA activities, please visit the Institute's website.