ARCHIVED - Your Health Research Dollars at Work 2005-2006This page has been archived.
Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats by contacting us.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada's agency for health research. Through CIHR, the Government of Canada invested approximately $47.5 million in 2005-06 in research on mental health and addiction across Canada.
- Mental illness is a broad classification for several disorders, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders and eating disorders.
- One out of every five Canadians will have a mental health problem at some point in his or her life.
- The onset of most mental illness occurs during childhood, adolescence and young adulthood.
- One in 100 Canadians suffers from schizophrenia and another one in 100 suffers from bipolar disorder, or manic depression; 8% of adults will experience major depression at some point in their lives, while 12% of the population is affected by anxiety disorders.
- Schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder are together responsible for more than 20% of years lived with a disability in established market economies.
- About 3% of women will be affected by an eating disorder during their lifetime.
- As a group, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than to be violent themselves.
- Lost productivity from poor mental health is estimated to cost Canadian businesses $33 billion per year.
Research Finding Mental Health Solutions
- Addiction to drugs involves powerful forces in the brain. CIHR-funded researchers Drs. Anthony Phillips and Yu Tian Wang of the University of British Columbia have demonstrated how to prevent the brain from remembering previous pleasurable responses to stimulant drugs such as cocaine. The team created a protein fragment (a peptide) that it used to block the chemical communications between brain cells that are necessary for recalling these memories. Their work could result in new treatments for addiction.
- An international team led by CIHR-supported researcher Dr. Xia Zhang at the University of Saskatchewan has discovered an enzyme known as PTEN that stimulates receptors for serotonin. This, in turn, increases brain activity in a way similar to the "rewards" produced by drug abuse. The team has been able to develop a peptide to block PTEN from reacting with the receptors. Their work raises the possibility for developing future therapies to prevent addiction.
- CIHR-supported researcher Dr. Min Zhou of the University of Toronto, along with colleagues from South Korea and China, reported on where painful memories become stored in the brain and how this process occurs, a finding that points to possible therapies for helping control fears and post-traumatic stress. A group of receptors known as NMDA receives information in response to a painful event, which then affects brain cells located in a region at the front of the brain known as the amygdala. When this activity is repeated over time, the process physically alters these brain cells. In experiments with mice, when researchers blocked a protein associated with these receptors, the mice no longer avoided an obstacle previously associated with fear.
- Double trouble. It's not just the name of a classic board game. It also describes overlapping problems with mental health and addiction. A recent study by CIHR-supported researchers Drs. Saulo Castel and Brian Rush of Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that, among clients of an outpatient addictions treatment program, 25% had 3 or more different mental health problems. The results suggest there should be routine screening for mental disorders as part of counselling for addiction, information which can help improve the treatment plan - and outcomes - for patients.
In the Pipeline...
Addressing Mental Illness Among Canada's Peacekeepers
Canada has a long-standing reputation for sending peacekeepers where they are needed most, but what happens when the peacekeepers are the ones who need help? A team of researchers lead by Dr. Jitender Sareen of the University of Manitoba is receiving funding from CIHR to study data collected as part of a mental health survey of military personnel, the largest ever undertaken. Using this survey data, the team is identifying the risk factors for mental illness and post traumatic stress among peacekeepers. The team is also using this information to assess whether soldiers' mental health needs are being met and to identify barriers to obtaining treatment and the kinds of treatments needed. The results of this research could ultimately affect policy for mental health services in the armed forces.
Dr. Karim Nader - Helping Manage Painful Memories
At 39, Dr. Karim Nader of McGill University is young by most standards, but what he's accomplished has set him ahead of many others his age.
In 2000, he published a paper in the prestigious journal Nature that challenged a 100-year old theory about how long-term memories are formed and stored.
Cellular memory consolidation refers to a process where new memories in short-term memory become stabilized and transfer into long-term memory. The process, which takes place over the space of about six hours, involves the creation of specific RNA and proteins in the brain essential in helping consolidate the memory.
"In the old system, a memory was like some kind of card catalogue system. Memories, once consolidated, stayed fixed in the brain and could be retrieved any number of times without changing," Dr. Nader explains. His research findings, however, introduced a concept completely at odds with the existing model - changeability.
Ironically, similar findings had first been noted in the early 1970s but failed to generate the attention they deserved at the time. They languished, forgotten, until Dr. Nader found them years later, while validating his own research results in this area.
Research by Dr. Nader demonstrates that, when previously consolidated memories are recalled, they enter into a state similar to short-term memory, becoming "labile" and subject to alteration. In this scenario, instead of a card printed with indelible ink, one has something more like an Etch-A-Sketch; any lines on the sketch tablet can be modified. Likewise, during the reconsolidation of memory, changes are possible.
"Just because a memory becomes labile again does not necessarily equal wiping it out or degrading it. Reconsolidation can also strengthen memory," he notes.
What continues to draw attention from a therapeutic point of view is the possibility that memories of trauma can be weakened by interrupting the reconsolidation process. In fact, Dr. Nader is currently collaborating with Drs. Alain Brunet (McGill), Scott Orr (Harvard) and Roger Pitman (Harvard) to see if they can treat patients who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by targeting the reconsolidation of their traumatic memory. But he is very clear that they are only trying to turn down the intensity of the memory while it undergoes reconsolidation and not affect the content of the memory.
The CIHR Institute
From diseases of the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis, to addiction, to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, to pain and the five senses with which we interpret the world, CIHR's Institute for Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction is concerned with how the brain works and how to deal with the social stigmas associated with mental illness.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada's agency for health research. CIHR's mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to catalyze its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian healthcare system. Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to more than 10,000 health researchers and trainees across Canada.
Canadian Institutes of Health Research
160 Elgin St., 9th Floor, Ottawa, ON K1A 0W9