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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 19 | November 29, 2001

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 between bands.

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 options.

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 five years.

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.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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