The Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health Innovation Fund Kickstart Research Grant is intended to help kick-start new research collaborations, directions, and technological developments. It supports new projects that generate preliminary data for future grant applications to external funding agencies.

The following are DMCBH researchers who have received this year’s Grant. Congratulations to all the winners!

Drs. Kamyar Keramatian, Erin Michalak and Lakshmi Yatham: Evaluation of a novel psychoeducational intervention for individuals at high risk for bipolar disorder: A feasibility study.

Bipolar Disorder (BD) is a lifelong psychiatric condition which is usually not diagnosed until later in life. Existing intervention programs focus on intervening after the diagnosis of BD and have been shown to have less than ideal outcomes for most patients. The team has recently developed a telehealth-based group psychoeducational program for individuals at high risk for bipolar disorder. This Kickstart Grant will be used to conduct a pilot study to examine whether this program can be feasibly implemented to increase knowledge of BD, reduce self-stigma and improve help-seeking.

Drs. Ipek Oruc, Robin Hsiung, Ozgur Yilmaz and Sonia Yeung: Automated detection of Alzheimer’s Disease from retinal fundus images using deep learning.

Early diagnosis is very important for Alzheimer’s Disease but routine screening which is necessary for early diagnosis is challenging because tests are costly and invasive. Studies have shown effects of AD on the retina, which means the retina tests could potentially be used as a diagnostic tool for AD. This Kickstart grant will be used to a build a deep learning model specialized for processed fundus images using multi-step fine-tuning to detect AD.

Drs. Anthony Phillips and Terrance Snutch: Assessment of novel drugs for attenuation of opioid withdrawal-induced hyperalgesia.

The opioid epidemic is a major health crisis around the world as well as in British Columbia. One of the challenges is that stopping the use of opioids triggers withdrawal, which serves as a major deterrent to seeking treatment and contributes to relapse. Studies have shown that withdrawal from opioids is associated with increased sensitivity to painful stimuli, which is known as opioid withdrawal-induced hyperaglesia. This Kickstart grant will be used to study novel drugs that could help manage opioid withdrawal-induced hyperalgesia which would provide a gateway to effectively treat opioid use disorder.

Drs. Daniela Palombo, Jodie Gawryluk and Christopher Madan: Dexontextualization of memory in PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects close to 10% of Canadians at some point in their lives. It is well known that trauma exposure alone cannot explain PTSD, which suggests there are important pre-existing factors at play. This Kickstart Grant will be used to elucidate basic cognitive biases in memory and neural alterations in individuals with high versus low PTSD symptoms.

Drs. Catharine Winstanley and Tao Huan: Applying metabolomics to explore origins of sex differences in risk-taking caused by D2/3 agonists.

L-dopa is the first line of treatment for Parkinson’s disease and has a small window where it’s effective. These drugs are effective in controlling the motor symptoms of PD, but they can also trigger serious impulsive-compulsive spectrum disorders in patients, which include gamling disorder, hoarding and kleptomania. Better understanding the mechanism through which D2/3 agonists drive the development of these disorders could possibly allow for creation of another treatment that prevents these unwelcomed side effects while preserving the anti-Parkinson’s benefit of these drugs.