Research Nova Scotia is pleased to announce more than $2 million in funding for 21 research projects at eight Nova Scotia universities and healthcare centers through its New Health Investigator Grant.

The New Health Investigator Grant supports early-career health researchers who are engaged in work that aligns with the province’s health research priorities.  The grant aims to provide two years of support of up to $100,000 for researchers who are within the first five years of their academic appointment in Nova Scotia or who are new to the field of health research. Funding provided will support the establishment of independent programs of research, support and expand the research productivity necessary for obtaining long term funding from national and external agencies and expand the potential for early-career investigators to make significant contributions in their field.  For the 2020-21 academic year, funding for this grant is provided by the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness.

$2,032,284

In Funding

21

Projects

8

Institutions

New Health Investigator Grant Recipients


Dr. Britney Benoit
Assistant Professor, Rankin School of Nursing
St. Francis Xavier University

Project: Provincial Implementation of the Baby-Friendly Initiative: A Collaborative, Theoretically Driven Study

Project overview

Despite the benefits of breastfeeding, Nova Scotia has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Canada. The Baby-Friendly Initiative (BFI) is an internationally recognized breastfeeding promotion program. Adoption of the BFI has been found to lead to increased breastfeeding initiation, exclusivity, and duration. However, its successful implementation is complex, requiring context-focused, theory-informed implementation research to support health services adoption, sustainability, and impact. Through her research, Dr. Britney Benoit and team hope to support the integrated and sustained implementation of the BFI in health organizations providing perinatal and infant care in Nova Scotia in order to optimize provincial breastfeeding outcomes. Completion of this study will hopefully result in evidence-informed implementation interventions to support the BFI that are tailored to diverse clinical and community care environments in Nova Scotia. This work will identify opportunities and strategies to optimize health and well-being of diverse Nova Scotian families through structures, processes, and practices that support breastfeeding.

Funding amount: $99,989
Team members: Dr. Christine Cassidy, Dr. Sara Kirk, Dr. Meaghan Sim, Michelle LeDrew, Dr. Gail Tomblin-Murphy, Dr. Annette Elliott Rose, Dr. Doris Gillis, Dr. Nathan Nickel, Sally Loring, Dr. Claire Betker, Kim Shebib, Trudy Reid, Lindsay Arseneau, & Dr. Marsha Campbell-Yeo

Dr. Leah Cahill
Affiliated Scientist
Nova Scotia Health

Project: Does a simple blood test predict who needs strict blood sugar control to prevent heart disease?

Project overview

Diabetes is a common health problem many Nova Scotians live with. Researchers have yet to discover why strict blood sugar control prevents heart disease in some people with type 2 diabetes but can cause harm in others. Dr. Leah Cahill and her research team have been working to fill this gap. They think the answer may depend on the form of the blood protein ‘haptoglobin’ that a person has, which can be measured by an inexpensive blood test. Dr. Cahill has recently published a major study in which they used this blood test that found that strict blood sugar control prevented heart disease in people with one haptoglobin type, but people with the other type had no heart disease benefit. Her research team plan to expand their work to include more representation in the people they study. Skilled researchers from a large existing study of blood sugar control called the ADVANCE study will provide them with blood samples from 3,900 people with type 2 diabetes around the world with different ethnicities, genders, and lengths of time with type 2 diabetes.This project is a cost-effective and ethical way to learn whether the haptoglobin type blood test can consistently tell which people will benefit from strict blood sugar control and who will not.

Funding amount: $93,381
Team members: Dr. John Sapp, Eric Rimm, Dr. Susan Kirkland, Dr. Andrew Levy, Dr. Mark Woodward, Dr. Elizabeth Selvin & Allie Carew

Dr. Christine Cassidy
Assistant Professor, School of Nursing
Dalhousie University

Project: Designing an integrated pediatric inpatient-ambulatory care service delivery model

Project overview

The health care system is facing challenges related to poor quality of care, rising health care costs, and outdated technology. Efforts are needed to redesign health services to improve outcomes for patients, health care providers, and the overall health system. One way to address these challenges is to integrate care across multiple health care providers and services. This means that care is coordinated to meet patient needs and preferences. Integrated models of care help to improve the quality of care, quality of life, patient satisfaction, and health system efficiency. During the COVID-19 pandemic, IWK Health identified gaps in their current approach to delivering services to children, youth, and their families. Senior-level decision-makers at IWK Health have identified the need to improve the integration of care across their ambulatory (outpatient) and inpatient settings. This integrated approach will help to strengthen the delivery of care within the pediatric health system. Redesigning health services is not easy. Research is needed to understand factors that could support a new model of care and factors that could prevent it from being adopting into practice. We also know that health care interventions are more effective when patients and care providers are included in the design process. The goal of this research study is to work with patients, families, health care providers, and health system administrators to design an integrated model of care for pediatric inpatient-ambulatory care services at IWK Health. 

Funding amount: $99,682
Team members: Dr. Janet Curran, Stacy Burgess, LeeAnn Larocque, Amanda Higgins, Dr. Jordan Sheriko, Dr. Ian Graham, Dr. Britney Benoit, Dr. Annette Elliott Rose, Tanya Murray, Eileen Gillespie, Shauna Best, Karen Carter, Elizabeth Schurman, Joanne Gallant, Claire Richardson, Kristin Taylor & Hwayeon Danielle Shin

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois
Professor, School of Public Administration
Dalhousie University

Project: Home Food Gardening in Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic: Lessons for Food Security Considerations

Project overview

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has impacted the food supply chain in Nova Scotia. While to date, the supply of most food products has proven to be both robust and resilient, citizens have reacted in fear, panic buying, stockpiling and turning to production of their own food through home gardening. Growing food as a response to crisis is not a new phenomenon. Times of economic upheaval have historically lead to increases in food gardening. The Great Depression saw the establishment of what were called relief gardens across Canada. Community gardens have been shown to increase community cohesion and resilience, increase food security, and support both physical health and mental health. The prevalence of home gardening versus community gardening suggests far more food is being grown at home. The isolation caused by COVID-19 has allowed citizens to turn to gardens for food and for mental health. Through his research, Dr. Sylvain Charlebois and team plan to determine how has COVID-19 affected Nova Scotian’s reaction to food security. This project will examine the extent to which Nova Scotians have turned to food production in their homes since COVID-19 and the underlying factors that have led some Nova Scotians to react to COVID-19 by gardening. In addition, the projects hopes to increase our understanding of how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the determinants to garden and the impact home gardening has on food security in Nova Scotia. 

Funding amount: $98,668
Team members: Dr. Patty Williams & Janet Music

Dr. Ketul Chaudhary
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine 
Dalhousie University

Project: Cardiac Vascular Stem Cells in Right Heart Failure

Project overview

Heart diseases are the second leading cause of death in Nova Scotia, causing significant burden on provincial healthcare system. Hospital costs related to heart failure in Canada is projected to increase to $ 2.8 billion in 2030. New options for better treatment of heart failure patients are desperately needed to improve patient outcomes and reduce the burden on healthcare system. The right ventricle of the heart normally functions against low pressure and resistance. However, in patients with increased blood pressure in the lungs or with existing left heart diseases, the right ventricle is exposed to higher pressure and resistance that leads to increase right ventricle wall thickness and ultimately right heart failure. Recent studies have shown that patients with stable right ventricle function have better survival than patients whose right ventricle function is deteriorating. Unfortunately, current treatments for left heart failure are not effective in right heart failure and right ventricle specific treatments are not available. Through his research, Dr. Ketul Chaudhary and team will investigate the processes involved in right heart failure to design new treatment options. Specifically, they will investigate the role of blood vessel stem cells in development of right heart failure and explore new stem cell-based treatment for patients.

Funding amount: $100,000
Team members: Dr. Susan Howlet

Dr. Jon Dorling
Neonatologist & Division Head, Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine
IWK Health Centre

Project: Preterm Infant Gut microbiome associations with Environment and Outcomes in the NICU (PIGEON)

Project overview

The gut microbiome is a complex community of bacteria and fungi that forms in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract shortly after birth. It plays a vital role in the functioning of a healthy GI tract by supplying nutrients and inhibiting the growth of unhealthy, harmful bugs and is also important in the development of immunity with important long-term health implications. The formation of the gut microbiome after birth is influenced by things that happen in early life such as type of birth, skin to skin and other family contact, feeding milk type (breast/formula), antibiotics and other environmental factors. Preterm infants are particularly vulnerable and at higher risk of altered microbiome colonization after birth due to being born early and with the specialized care in neonatal intensive care units (NICU). Through his research, Dr. Dorling and team will assess the effect of important exposures on the microbiome including prolonged skin to skin contact at birth, milk supplementation with lactoferrin, full feeds from day 1, antibiotic exposure and how much time the parents spend and interact with their baby. 

Funding amount: $99,625
Team members: Dr. Andrew Stadnyk, Dr. Ketan Kulkarni, Dr. Singh Balpreet, Dr. Dunn Katherine, Dr. Jeannette Commeau & Dr. Marsha Campbell-Yeo

Dr. Parisa Ghanouni
Assistant Professor, School of Occupational Therapy
Dalhousie University

Project: Community-Based Services for Individuals With Developmental Disabilities: Transition to Adult Care

Project overview

Despite the great progress signaled by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, individuals with disabilities worldwide continue to confront barriers to equitable access to the health resources and social supports that enable their full participation in society. Gaps in access have improved for many, especially for children, but the transition to adulthood continues to represent a “services cliff” that people with disabilities confront in their late teens. The service cliff during the transition to adulthood in rural areas is not well understood, given the higher incidence of developmental disabilities and difficulty in access to health services in rural communities. To our knowledge, there is no evidence on services and successful transitions of individuals with developmental disabilities with respect to their health as they age into adulthood in Canadian “rural” areas including rural N.S. Through this research, Dr. Parisa Ghanouni and team plan to uncover barriers and facilitators related to community-based healthcare services during the transition of adolescents with developmental disabilities to adulthood in rural areas and co-develop a toolkit with stakeholders that outlines implementation strategies to promote successful transitions. This initiative will advance knowledge on services available that support the transition to adulthood in rural areas, highlight service gaps, point to important areas for investment, and thus contribute to academic, policy and community understandings and capacity around services for people with disabilities. The project will help combat health inequities through a focus on social determinants of health, and could enhance the quality of healthcare for individuals with disabilities living in rural areas.

Funding amount: $100,000
Team members: Dr. Christine Cassidy, Dr. Amanda Casey, Dr. Karen Foster, Dr. Janet Curran, Nancy Walker, Dr. Sara Kirk, Anne Pilmer, Dr. Karen McNeil, Garth Potter, Dr. Lynn Shaw & Dr. Tanya Packer

Dr. Phillip Joy
Assistant Professor, Human Nutrition
Mount Saint Vincent University

Project: Exploring current nutritional knowledge and resources available to people living with HIV-AIDS in Nova Scotia: A Comprehensive needs assessment

Project overview

People living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) in Nova Scotia face barriers to meeting their healthcare needs, including nutritional needs. Optimal nutrition is critical to the health and wellbeing of PLWHA in maintaining their immune system and preventing disease progression. It is important that PLWHA receive nutrition knowledge and foods skills, programming, and support to sustain and improve their health and quality of life. Despite this, there is a lack of knowledge and resources in Nova Scotia on the impact of stigma, homophobia, and food security on nutritional programming. Additionally, there is a lack of knowledge about community wants and needs for nutritional programming. Moreover, PLWHA now face novel challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Service providers are operating remotely and, as a result, community-based offerings have been postponed or moved online. The impact of the pandemic on this community, especially in relation to nutrition, isolation, access to support systems, financial burden and food security, has not yet been quantified, nor described. Through his research, Dr. Phillip Joy and team hope to gain understanding of the nutrition and food needs of PLWHA in Nova Scotia through a comprehensive community-informed needs assessment. The research will take a community-based approach, engaging healthcare workers, service providers, and PLWHA in Nova Scotia. Community partners will include several HIV/AIDS service providers in the province, such as AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia, Healing Our Nations, AIDS Coalition of Cape Breton, ALLY, and Community-based Research Centre. 

Funding amount: $99,785.60
Team members: Dr. Shannan Grant, Patricia Williams, Dr. Lisa Goldberg, Dr. Mary Lynch, Dr. Barb Hamilton-Hinch, Dr. Peter Stilwell, Michell Proctor-Simms, Larry Baxter, Marg Dwyer, & Ken McKenzie

Dr. Denys Khaperskyy
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine
Dalhousie University

Project: Role of stress granule formation in immune responses to respiratory viruses

Project overview

Viral respiratory disease burden remains high despite continuous efforts to limit virus infection and spread through vaccination, surveillance, and quarantine measures. Right now, the world is in the middle of a pandemic caused by a novel respiratory virus – severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). In just a few months this new pathogen infected millions of people in almost every country and caused over 700,000 deaths. Even if vaccines are deployed, people with underlying health conditions will remain under threat if vaccines provide only limited protection. This is true in the case of another respiratory virus, influenza, to which vaccines were developed decades ago, and which continues to cause seasonal epidemics. In Canada, influenza infections peak each year in the late fall and winter months resulting in over 12,000 hospitalizations and over 3,000 deaths annually. This underscores the need for better treatment options for those who develop severe respiratory disease. Dr. Khaperskyy’s previous research demonstrated that formation of stress granules in response to virus infection is a powerful way for the cell to stop a virus from multiplying. Stress granules are large condensates that accumulate RNAs and proteins that are damaged, unnecessary, or even harmful for the cell when it is under stress. Through his research, Dr. Denys Khaperskyy and team aim to characterize the molecular mechanisms by which the host shutoff proteins of respiratory viruses block stress granule responses, define the role of stress granule formation in immune responses to respiratory viruses, and identify ways to disrupt viral mechanisms of stress granule inhibition to enable development of new antiviral treatments.

Funding amount: $99,980
Team members: Dr. Roy Duncan

Dr. Michael Kucharczyk
Radiation Oncologist
Nova Scotia Health

Project: Can Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Prostate combined with a Radiomics Evaluation Determine the Invasive Capacity of a Tumour (Can MRI-PREDICT)

Project overview

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in men in Nova Scotia. The advanced age of Nova Scotia’s population increases risk here. A prostate biopsy involves attending a specialist’s clinic where a needle is placed through the rectum to get a prostate sample. This sample is looked at under a microscope to get the result. However, prostate biopsies risk pain, bleeding, issues achieving an erection, and potentially severe infections. Through their research, Dr. Michael Kucharczyk and his team hope to confirm that their non-invasive innovative tool, the Magnetic resonance imaging of the prostate based Radiomics Tool (MRT), can reliably and accurately predict a prostate cancer’s aggressiveness. In addition, they plan to create a database of MRI images to allow for rapid future MRT improvements to determine a prostate cancer’s current aggressiveness. From an MRI scan of the Prostate (MRI-P), the MRT can predict the results of a prostate biopsy. Unlike a biopsy, an MRI-P is considered non-invasive – having very few risks to the patient.

Funding amount: $97,683
Team members: Dr. Sharon Clarke, Dr. Ahmad Chaddad, Dr. Ricardo Rendon, Dr. Steven Beyea, Dr. Ross Mason, Dr. Chris Bowen & Kara Matheson

Dr. Brendan Leung
Assistant Professor, Department of Applied Oral Sciences, Faculty of Dentistry
Dalhousie University

Project: Harnessing oral microbiota to prevent chemotherapy-induced oral mucositis: functional screening using a bioprinted mammalian-microbe co-culture model

Project overview

Chemotherapy induced oral mucositis (CIOM) is a painful and debilitating side effect of cancer treatment that affects 20-40% of cancer patients. Chemotherapy kills cancer cells, but it also affects fast growing normal cells in the body, especially those that line the mouth. When these cells are damaged, painful mouth ulcers form. These painful ulcers can affect patients’ ability to eat, drink, talk and even rest, therefore significantly reducing their quality of life. Currently there is no effective way to prevent CIOM from happening, and the only way to treat it is to provide supportive care such as numbing gels, ice chips and painkillers. Research has found that the types of bacteria that normally live in the mouth (the microbiome) change when someone develops CIOM. It is difficult to study cause and effect between bacteria and CIOM partly because it is difficult to grow bacteria and human cells together in the lab in a controlled and repeatable way. Through his research, Dr. Brendan Leung and team will use a unique method to grow oral bacteria to investigate how microbes interact with oral cells during chemotherapy in order to identify microbial species that may offer protection again CIOM.

Funding amount: $99,600
Team members: Dr. Andrew Stadnyk, Dr. Ketan Kulkarni, Dr. Zhenyu Cheng, Dr. Morgan Langille & Dr. Lisa Johnson

Dr. Paula McLaughlin
Clinical Neuropsychologist
Nova Scotia Health

Project: Identifying, Understanding, and Mitigating Gaps in Dementia Care

Project overview

There are an estimated 12,000 older adults currently living with dementia in Nova Scotia. This number is expected to grow in the coming years as our population continues to age. Identifying and understanding the needs of persons with dementia is an important first step in providing care and support to these individuals and their families. Dr. Paula McLaughlin and her research team will look at the needs of Nova Scotians with dementia who are currently living at home and explore ways to improve the care and services provided to them.

Telehealth (delivery of care from a distance using telephones and the internet) can be an effective way of improving access to care in rural communities and other underserviced areas, but it is not commonly used in Nova Scotia at the present time. During the recent COVID-19 pandemic many in-person medical visits and support programs have been put on hold, and telehealth has been used to provide care on a large scale throughout the province. Although telehealth is a promising way of filling this gap in delivering health services, it is unclear whether telehealth and other virtual supports are the best way to improve dementia care in Nova Scotia. The team plan to use a province-wide survey to identify the current needs of persons with dementia in relation to diagnosis, treatment, clinical care, and community support. This research project will help determine whether virtual care is suitable, feasible and effective for Nova Scotians with dementia, and will increase our understanding of the current health and social needs of persons with dementia.

Funding amount: $98,882.97
Team members: Dr. John Fisk, Dr. Christopher MacKnight, Jennifer Haley, Dr. Jennifer Prentice, Dr. Robin Urquhart, Dr. Maia von Maltzahn & Sacha Nadeau

Dr. Sandra Meier
Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
IWK Health Centre

Project: An App Responding to Behaviour of People to Promote Mental Wellbeing in Anxious Youth

Project overview

Anxiety disorders are common mental health problems, for which hundreds of Nova Scotians seek care each year. Typically developing early in childhood or adolescence, many patients experience a relapse or chronic course of their anxiety disorder often resulting in substantial impairment across the lifespan. While there exist effective treatment options, most youth with anxiety disorders do not receive adequate health care. A recent provincial study suggested that only one third of youth with severe anxiety symptoms are currently undergoing treatment. Mental health apps might present themselves as particularly promising alternatives for treating anxiety disorders as these apps are highly cost effective and easily accessible; youth can use them whenever and wherever they want. However, often youth are not making use of the currently available mental health apps as they perceive them as too complex and impersonal. Through her research, Dr. Sandra Meier and team hope to better engage youth with anxiety disorders in the usage of mental health apps by designing an app that is easy to use and can be personalized to youth’s needs. The successful completion of this research proposal will result in the creation of novel treatment tool for youth who do not require in-person care for their anxiety.

Funding amount: $100,000
Team members: Dr. Rita Orji, Dr. Alexa Bagnell, Dr. Lori Wozney, Dr. Fernando Paulovich, Dr. Patrick McGrath & Dr. Evangelos Milios

Dr. Elaine Moody
Assistant Professor, School of Nursing
Dalhousie University

Project: Primary Healthcare for People with Dementia: Exploring Care Provided by Collaborative Family Practice Teams in Nova Scotia

Project overview

There is an increasing need to improve the health care of people with dementia in Nova Scotia. As the population ages, it will become even more important to provide good care to people with dementia to ensure they can live well in the community. In Nova Scotia, there has been a move to develop collaborative family practice teams, where physicians, nurse practitioners, family practice nurses and other healthcare providers work together to address the Primary health care (PHC) needs of individuals. Primary care providers in these teams require dementia-specific knowledge, skills, resources and supports to enable people with dementia and their caregivers to live well in the community. However, there is little information available about how these teams address the needs of people with dementia. Through her research, Dr. Elaine Moody and team hope to better understand how collaborative family practice teams in Nova Scotia are addressing the needs of people living with dementia in the community, and to identify ways to improve their care. To achieve their goal, the researchers will gather the perspectives of people with living with dementia and caregivers on how collaborative family practice teams provide care in order to identify gaps in current service provision and opportunities to improve care, with a particular focus on diversity and inclusion. Additionally, they will explore how care provided by collaborative family practice teams to people with dementia has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. This project will contribute to the improvement of PHC for people with dementia, and may ultimately support the future needs of Nova Scotians with dementia and their caregivers, while supporting the sustainability of the healthcare system.

Funding amount: $89,489
Team members: Dr. Emily Marshall, Susan Savage, Dr. Ruth Martin-Misener, Dr. Grace Warner, Dr. Melissa Andrew, Dr. Alethea Lacas, Dr. Cheryl Smith, Dr. Katie Aubrecht, Sandra Britten, Sacha Nadeau, Heather McDougall, Marilyn Taylor & Dr. Fay Cohen

Dr. Ryan Reid
Assistant Professor, Huamn Kinetics
St. Francis Xavier University

Project: Using activity monitors to improve virtual care for individuals at risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease living in rural areas of Nova Scotia

Project overview

Excess bodyweight and cardiovascular disease represent serious public health concerns in Nova Scotia. The second leading cause of death in Nova Scotia is cardiovascular disease, which disproportionally impacts individuals with excess bodyweight. Lifestyle behaviours (physical activity, sedentary behaviour, sleep) effect excess bodyweight and cardiovascular disease. Through his research, Dr. Ryan Reid and team plan to integrate objectively captured lifestyle behaviour data into in-person and virtual care. Activity monitor data will be processed through a digital health application developped by the research team and made available to primary care health professionals. Incorporating information from an activity monitor into primary care will guide conversations between primary care health professionals and patients, leading to more effective treatments for patients living with or at-risk of cardiovascular disease in primary care.

Funding amount: $78,813
Team members: Dr. James Hughes, Dr. Angela Kolen, Jeslyn MacDonald & Dr. Raza Abidi

Dr. Skye Stephens
Assistant Professor, Psychology
Saint Mary’s University

Project: The Feasibility of a Program for the Prevention of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Project overview

Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a universal public health problem impacting 18% of girls and 8% of boys worldwide. Children are over represented as victims of sexual abuse, as 56% of police-reported sexual assaults in Nova Scotia involved victims under 18. Rates of sexual abuse in Nova Scotia are above the national Canadian average. CSA contributes to significant disease burden, as it is connected to a wide range of adverse mental and physical health outcomes. Effective prevention programs could stop CSA from occurring in the first place and prevent adverse health outcomes. In Nova Scotia, a significant gap in prevention programming is the delivery of comprehensive mental health services to individuals who may be at risk of CSA perpetration. Previous research has suggested that there are individuals who have not offended but struggle to stay offence free and experience mental health challenges. Through her research, Dr. Skye Stephens and team aim to enhance capacity to provide CSA prevention programming in Nova Scotia by exploring barriers to development. Knowledge gained during this study will lay the groundwork for the development and evaluation of a prevention program that could reduce the occurrence of CSA and associated negative health outcomes. Overall, the project could increase the health and safety of Nova Scotians by proactively addressing risk factors for CSA perpetration.

Funding amount: $77,303
Team members: Dr. Etta Brodersen, Loren Klein, Dr. Ainslie Heasman, Dr. Ian McPhail, Dr. Angela Connors, Christina Shaffer, Amy Ornstein, Ray MacNeil & Dr. Jamie Livingston

Dr. Tanya Surette
Assistant Professor, School of Education
Acadia University

Project: Resilience and impairment: A study of factors supporting counsellor development and career longevity

Project overview

Nova Scotia has one of the highest lifetime prevalence rates of mental health disorders in the country. Current literature suggests up to 60% of counselling professionals experience occupational health concerns due to compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue refers to the significant negative emotional and psychological impacts that stem from supporting others through trauma and emotional distress. High levels of compassion fatigue are associated with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety and can impact a counsellors ability to provide the most effective and therapeutic services possible to their clients. There are few studies that investigate factors that promote counsellor resilience. Through her research, Dr. Tanya Surette seeks to address this gap by following counselling graduate students from preservice, through their education, internship, and early careers, capturing their developmental journey through video journal diaries, narrative interviews, artistic exploration, and mental health screening assessments. This comprehensive data generation will provide valuable theoretical and practical direction to clinical supervisors, employers, public health authorities, and individual practitioners including intentional practices and initiatives that enhance the resilience and longevity of counselling professionals. In the face of ever-growing demands on mental health practitioners, compounded by insufficient service capacity and shortages of workers, Nova Scotia will benefit from a deepened understanding of how to support the preparation, education, and sustainability of counsellors.

Funding amount: 99,909.56
Team members: Dr. Micheal Shier, Dr. Kelly Brenton & Dr. Michael Corbett

Dr. Deniz Top
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine
Dalhousie University

Project: Differences in the Regulation of Behaviour Genes as a Proposed Mechanism for Mental Illness

Project overview

Mental illnesses, such as depression and bipolar disorder, affect nearly 200,000 Nova Scotians. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it even harder for these Nova Scotians to access treatment. Drugs and therapies used to treat mental illnesses do not work for all patients and can cause unpleasant side effects. To find better treatments, more research is needed to understand what causes mental illnesses and how they develop. Through his research, Dr. Deniz Top and team will use fruit flies to study changes in DNA (mutations) that are connected to mental illnesses in people. One of these mutations is linked to bipolar disorder and depression. In previous research, the team found that this mutation disrupts the function of the gene in some parts of the brain and not in others. Based on their findings, they believe that mental illnesses may occur when one part of the brain is unable to function as well as another. Through their work, they hope to determine if the change in mutant fly behaviour is similar to what is found in people so they can observe how genes mutations affect proteins, how proteins affect brain cells and how brain cells affect behaviour. This research aims to better our understanding of how mental illness develops in order to support the development of new treatments for people with mental illness. 

Funding amount: $100,000
Team members: Dr. James Kramer & Dr. Kazue Semba

Dr. Kara Thompson
Assistant Professor, Psychology
St. Francis Xavier University

Project: Strengthening alcohol policies on Atlantic Canadian campuses: Working collaboratively to reduce alcohol-related harm among students

Project overview

High rates of alcohol consumption is a significant issue among post-secondary students. Post-secondary institutions are challenged to develop, implement and enforce effective policies to minimize and mitigate this problem. Through her research, Dr. Kara Thompson and team intend to create knowledge that will inform future evidence-based alcohol policy development at post-secondary campuses in Atlantic Canada. To complete this project, her team will work with 12 Atlantic Canadian campuses to (1) To identify best practices/evidence for campus alcohol policy; (2) To develop a coding framework to measure quality of campus alcohol policies; (3) To evaluate the quality of current alcohol policies across Atlantic Canadian campuses against the most up-to-date evidence; and (4) To establish baseline associations between campus alcohol policies and student alcohol use and harm.The outcomes of this project will address a major risk factor for disease and injury, namely alcohol, among a high-risk population and will contribute to an improvement in population health among young adults by reducing the substantial health, social and economic costs associated with alcohol use.

Funding amount: $99,835
Team members: Dr. Sherry Stewart, Dr. Darren Krussilbrink, Dr. Mark Asbridge, Dr. Janine Olthuis, Dr. Tim Stockwell, Dr. Catherine Paradis, Dr. Robert Strang & Dr. Bryce Barker

Dr. Igor Yakovenko
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Science
Dalhousie University

Project: Screening, self-management and referral to treatment for young cannabis users: fulfilling an unmet need

Project overview

Cannabis is commonly used across North America, with about 11% of individuals aged 15 to 64 reporting past-year use. Importantly, a disproportionate amount of young individuals tend to use cannabis for a variety of reasons. This issue is particularly relevant for Nova Scotia, which has the highest use rates of cannabis in Canada, with approximately 33% of youth age 15 and older reporting using cannabis in the past year and potentially experiencing problems as a result. Yet, researchers recognize that only a small portion of individuals with cannabis use problems ever seek treatment. Therefore, developing effective interventions is urgently required to meet the needs of people who already use cannabis, but who are not currently receiving specialty treatment for cannabis addiction. To date, the impact of providing an easily accessible intervention for cannabis problems has not been evaluated. To address this issue, the Canadian Research Initiative on Substance Misuse (CRISM) has developed an online intervention platform (Screening, Self-Management. and Referral to Treatment; SSMRT), accessible to the general public. Through his research, Dr. Igor Yakovenko and team will evaluate whether using the SSMRT program reduces problems associated with using cannabis. The goal is to answer the following research questions: 1) Will young adults who use the SSMRT platform experience greater cannabis problem reduction than those who do not use the self-help platform? 2) What factors predict reductions in cannabis problems for those who engage with SSMRT including gender and other sociodemographic differences? The results of the study will be used to support provincial healthcare programming, provincial public health campaigns for cannabis and service development to help young adults with cannabis use concerns. 

Funding amount: $99,657
Team members: Dr. Cameron Wild, Dr. Sandra Meier, Dr. Mohammed Al-Hamdani, & Dr. Sherry Stewart

Dr. Jamileh Yousefi
Assistant Professor, Business Analytics
Cape Breton University

Project: An Explainable Machine Learning to Dissect Geographical Disparities in Cancer Incidence and Mortality Rates in Canada

Project overview

Lung and colorectal cancers are among the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Canada. However, cancer incidence and mortality rates are not distributed equally across Canada. In 2019, cancer cases and mortality rates per 100,000 in eastern provinces were 1.5 times higher than western provinces. The provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have the highest lung cancer rates among males in Canada (91 and 87 per 100,000, respectively). On the other hand, British Colombia and Alberta have the lowest lung cancer rates among males (53 and 60 per 100,000, respectively). These gaps raise the question: “why do such disparities exist?” There is uncertainty about the factors that may mediate the disparities in cancer incidence and mortality rates among eastern and western provinces. Identifying possible mediators associated with these cancer disparities can help us to develop a prevention strategy at the provincial level.

Through her research, Dr. Jamileh Yousefi and team intend to develop an explainable machine learning tool that can be used in research on all kinds of health care disparities. While this study will focus on developing a new method to identify mediators associated with geographical disparities in lung and colorectal cancer, the team anticipates producing a tool that can be used to study other types of health disparities. This direction builds upon and naturally combines Dr. Yousefi’s previous research experience in artificial intelligence, fuzzy systems, pattern recognition, and developing machine learning methods in the medical field. These fields of research play important roles in many health applications which include signal processing, clinical decision support tools, medical diagnosis systems, linguistic rule generation, to mention a few.

Funding amount: $100,000
Team members: Dr. Claudette Taylor & Andrew Hamilton