Scholars sweep research awards
Youth suicide, attention disorder among issues
by Hilary Thomson staff writer
A psychologist who investigates how cultural practices affect rates
of suicide among aboriginal youth and a cognitive neuroscientist
who studies attention disorder are among the researchers to receive
awards in the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR).
Researchers at UBC and its partner teaching hospitals and research
institutes received 26 of the 33 awards available in the inaugural
career awards competition. The awards are valued at more than $17
million over five years.
Psychology Prof. Michael Chandler will study suicide and self-injury
among First Nations youth.
"Young people kill themselves in heartbreaking numbers with the
rates in certain aboriginal communities sometimes being hundreds
of times larger than the rest of the population -- arguably the
highest in the world," says Chandler, a faculty member since 1978.
He studies how cultural differences during adolescence help or
harm young people's ability to protect themselves from risk of self-destructive
behaviour. In particular, he looks at how rates of suicide vary
Chandler found that bands who try to preserve and rehabilitate
their culture by measures such as securing title to traditional
lands or gaining community control over education experience fewer
suicides than other bands. In a five-year study of all aboriginal
suicides in B.C. he found no reported youth suicides in bands where
a full range of protective factors were in place. Communities without
evidence of such efforts experienced suicide rates five to 100 times
the national average.
Chandler, who was also named a Distinguished Investigator of the
Canadian Institutes of Health Research this year, aims to share
his research results with First Nations communities to help them
reconstruct cultural practices that may serve to protect their youth.
Alan Kingstone, an associate professor of Psychology, will study
the mechanisms of attention in healthy children and adults as well
as those with attention disorders.
"This award is truly a wonderful initiative that increases capacity
in health research," says Kingstone, a faculty member since 1999.
"With the award, our department intends to create a new faculty
position in cognitive neuroscience and also my lab can accelerate
and expand its own research."
A specialist in the fledgling discipline of cognitive neuroscience,
he describes attention disorder as a failure to either select relevant
information or disregard irrelevant information. Attention problems
are a major source of disability, Kingstone says, and are associated
with a wide range of disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.
Kingstone's research team uses behavioural and neurospsychological
assessments and advanced imaging technologies to reveal brain processes
involved in different attention tasks.
His research also explores the role attention plays in integrating
information across the senses. Vision, touch and sound compete for
our attention but can also co-ordinate to assist perception. New
knowledge about how the brain works in these activities will help
in understanding and possibly developing better treatment and rehabilitation
The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, named for the
late UBC professor of Biotechnology and Nobel laureate in Chemistry,
was created this spring to provide leadership and support to build
B.C.'s health research capacity.
Awards support health researchers currently working or being recruited
to work in B.C.
Successful applicants receive five years of salary support at
one of three levels: scholar awards of up to $80,000 annually; senior
scholar awards of up to $100,000 annually and distinguished scholar
awards that offer up to $120,000 annually and are renewable every
Research categories of health services, population health, biomedical
and clinical include investigations of issues ranging from heart
disease and prostate cancer to early labour support at home.
Other UBC award recipients include: Arts/Medicine: Christine
Chambers, Psychology/Pediatrics. Medicine: Riyad Abu-Laban, Emergency
Medicine; Shoukat Dedhar, Cancer Genetics and Development Biology;
Vincent Duronio, Jack Bell Research Centre; Alaa El-Din El-Husseini,
Psychiatry; John Hill, Healthy Heart Program; Robert Hogg, Health
Care and Epidemiology; Pamela Hoodless, Terry Fox Laboratory; Sheila
Innis, Pediatrics; Patricia Janssen, Family Practice; Aly Karsan,
Medical Biophysics; Peter Leung, Obstetrics and Gynecology; Adrian
Levy, Health Care and Epidemiology; Victor Ling, Cancer Genetics
and Development Biology; Marco Marra, Genome Sequence Centre; Colleen
Nelson, Surgery/The Prostate Centre; Jan Ochnio, Pediatrics; Peter
Pare, McDonald Research Laboratories; Dessa Sadovnick, Medical Genetics;
Lakshmi Yatham, Psychiatry. Office of the Coordinator of Health
Sciences: Robert Reid, Centre for Health Services and Policy Research.
Science: Patrick Keeling, Botany; David Perrin, Chemistry; Mall
Ramer, Collaboration on Repair Discoveries.