HRI Scientists honoured for research contributions

Dr. James Mackillop elected to Royal Society of Canada

In September 2019, HRI Senior Scientist, Dr. James MacKillop, was elected to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

The College recognizes emerging scholars, artists, and scientists and brings its members together to develop interdisciplinary approaches to urgent matters that concern all Canadians, from environmental sustainability to advances in health science.

Photo credit: Dr. Mark Crowther

Dr. MacKillop is the inaugural holder of the Peter Boris Chair in Addictions Research, the Director of the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research, Co-director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research, and a Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University. His research leverages multidisciplinary perspectives to generate novel insights into addiction. To date, this work has generated more than 120 peer-reviewed publications and other works.

Dr. Ruth Lanius wins Banting Award for Military Health Research

HRI Associate Clinical Scientist, Dr. Ruth Lanius, was the recipient of the 2019 Banting Award for Military Health Research, an honour presented at the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR) Forum, which took place in Ottawa, Ontario from October 21-23.

Named after Sir Frederick Banting, a researcher, physician and Nobel laureate who discovered insulin, the Banting Award is presented annually to a Canadian researcher making important advances in military health research.

Dr. Lanius received the award for her work using advanced brain imaging to better understand post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her team uses technology to test adjunct treatments for PTSD, such as providing real-time feedback to patients about their brain waves and teaching them to re-regulate brain activity.

As the recipient of the Banting Award, Dr. Lanius has also been invited to be keynote speaker at next year’s Forum.

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Dr. John Kelton joins HRI Board of Directors

HRI is pleased to welcome Dr. John Kelton to our Board of Directors.

Dr. Kelton is a Distinguished University Professor and Executive Director of the Michael G. DeGroote Initiative for Innovation in Healthcare at McMaster University in Hamilton. He assumed his current role in 2016, after completing a 15-year term as McMaster’s Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Vice-President for Health Sciences. He also served concurrently as Dean of McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

During Dr. Kelton’s tenure, McMaster earned recognition as one of the top 40 universities in the world in medicine and health sciences.

Dr. Kelton is a practicing hematologist at Hamilton Health Sciences. He leads an internationally recognized research program exploring platelet and bleeding disorders. He has also earned global attention for his research on bleeding disorders of pregnant women and heparin-induced thrombocytopenia.

In 2015, Dr. Kelton was named a member of the Order of Canada. He has been awarded an honourary Doctorate of Science from the University of Waterloo, an honourary Doctorate of Law from the University of Windsor, and an honourary Doctorate of Science from Western University. He is also the recipient of a Prix Galien Research Award.

Dr. Kelton brings a wealth of experience to the HRI Board of Directors. His expertise in clinical research and innovation will be an asset as HRI continues to accelerate Canadian progress in clinical treatment and outcomes for mental illness and addiction.

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2018-2019 Annual Report now available

HRI’s latest Annual Report highlights some of the milestones that our donors and supporters helped us achieve in 2018-19. We are pleased to share these stories with you – stories that demonstrate the difference we are making together to help people experiencing mental illness and addiction.

Thank you for following and supporting our work. Thank you for giving us so many reasons to celebrate.

Read the Annual Report now

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HRI launches videos shedding light on mental health and addiction research

HRI recently launched Vimeo and YouTube channels and released a series of videos highlighting the importance of mental health and addiction research in Canada.

Six videos offer a glimpse into how we are working to transform treatment to help people living with mental illness and addiction. Some of the highlights include:

  • An overview of the Recovery Journey Project, a study examining the long-term outcomes of inpatient addiction treatment in Canada
  • Research underway that is changing our understanding of PTSD
  • The life-changing benefits of participating in research at HRI
  • How collaboration significantly reduces the time it takes for research discoveries to be put into practice
  • The benefits of using living research environments to test novel treatments among the people who need them the most

Click to visit HRI’s Vimeo and YouTube channels and follow/subscribe for future updates.


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How patients are helping to shape future research at HRI

In the field of mental health research, patients are the most important stakeholders. They bring the perspective of experts with lived experience who can make important contributions that enhance the relevance and legitimacy of research.

To ensure that HRI’s work is responsive to the needs of Canadians, we aim to engage patients in identifying and informing meaningful research priorities and plans. In this way, patients are partners, playing an active role in shaping the mental health and addiction research agenda.

When HRI launched the Recovery Journey Project, a study examining the long-term outcomes of mental health and addiction treatment, we worked with patients to determine which aspects of recovery were most important to them. Now in its fifth year, the Recovery Journey Project is generating findings that can be used to improve treatment in Canada and help patients get better, sooner.

At a recent event in Guelph, Ontario, HRI invited patients in recovery from addiction to tell us what kinds of questions they think need to be answered about recovery.

The event, called Spiritual Renewal, is an annual celebration hosted by HRI’s primary research partner, Homewood Health. Patients from Homewood Health Centre’s residential addiction program gather each year to celebrate recovery milestones and support one another.

HRI has attended the Spiritual Renewal event for several years. Many attendees are alumni who have participated in the Recovery Journey Project. Others are current patients of the Health Centre, and the remaining attendees are family members. This year, we asked attendees, including family members, to help us determine future directions for the project. In particular, we wanted to know:

  • Which areas they feel should be the focus of future research, and
  • What kinds of questions they have about recovery.

What did patients tell us?

Mental health ranked as the number one priority research area among those who participated. Some of the most pressing questions included:

  • What are the impacts of concurrent disorders on recovery?
  • How does childhood trauma affect recovery?
  • Why do some people develop an addiction while others don’t?

Other major areas of interest and accompanying questions included:

  • Aftercare: does it work?
  • Social influences on recovery: how important is it to have a strong support system that includes people with lived experience?
  • Personal influences on recovery: does quality of life change over time?

Click to view priority research areas and related questions as identified by patients

What happens next?

With these insights, we can begin to explore the emerging research themes that matter to patients the most. Findings can then be used to inform meaningful improvements to care and ultimately to generate better treatment results.

The expertise that patients bring to the table will enable us to shape future research activities to better help the patients and families who stand to benefit from our work the most.

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Scholarship awarded to honour legacy of Guelph mental health advocate Darlene Walton

L-R: Dr. Roy Cameron, Alyna Walji, Gary Walton

Darlene Walton was passionate about mental health. A well-known Guelph resident, she dedicated her career to helping people impacted by mental illness and addiction. She was also a strong supporter of mental health research and contributed in many ways to Homewood Research Institute (HRI), a mental health charity which she saw as having potential to transform Canada’s mental health and addiction services.

When Darlene passed away in 2018, HRI established a scholarship to honour her legacy. The Darlene Walton Scholarship Fund was designated to support a student pursuing studies in the field of mental health and addiction research. On June 18, 2019, the award was presented to its first recipient, Alyna Walji.

Walji is a Health Studies co-op student from the University of Waterloo. During her 2018 work term at HRI, she developed a prototype tool that displays research data in a simplified and interactive way. Known as the Data Visualization Tool, the prototype was created to help health data users such as hospital administrators, program directors and others use data and improve programs by identifying critical success factors, areas for improvement, and research priorities.

Walji worked in collaboration with Dr. Jim Wallace, professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo, to develop the tool and move it from a paper-based blueprint to a fully-functioning electronic dashboard application.

The Data Visualization Tool is currently being piloted at Homewood Health, HRI’s founder and primary research partner. Using the prototype tool, clinicians can quickly explore data from patients who have been in recovery for up to one year following addiction treatment, and use findings to inform changes to treatment programs and ultimately improve patient outcomes.
“The Data Visualization Tool is a resource that can transform the way our research data is shared and used,” says Dr. Jean Costello, a Research and Evaluation Scientist at HRI who supervised Walji’s work term.

“Oftentimes, data is shared via static media, such as infographics and reports. This tool allows people to interact with the data in a user-friendly way. It makes otherwise-complicated data more accessible, meaningful and understandable for those tasked with making data-driven decisions and improvements to mental health care services.”

Members of Darlene Walton’s family were in attendance during the award presentation.

“Darlene believed that science was the key to finding solutions,” says Darlene’s husband, Gary Walton.

“She viewed HRI’s practical research as vital to the future of our nation’s mental health, and our family is grateful that her passion will live on through the generous donations made to this scholarship fund. We are very pleased that Alyna is the first recipient of Darlene’s award. Darlene would be so happy to know that her legacy is supporting the next generation of researchers and scientists who will make a difference.”

“We can’t think of a student more deserving of the Darlene Walton Scholarship Fund than Alyna Walji,” says Dr. Costello.

“Darlene is an inspiration to us all, and we are pleased to honour her by awarding this scholarship to a student who shares Darlene’s vision of a brighter future.”

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Exploring the use of CBD in treating alcohol use disorder

The CBD industry is booming. CBD (short for cannabidiol) is a chemical compound derived from the cannabis plant that is marketed as a cure-all and added to everything from bath bombs to dog treats.

But has the hype of CBD gotten ahead of the science?

“The use of medical cannabis in Canada has increased by 2000 per cent since 2014, but the evidence to support its therapeutic benefits simply isn’t there,” says Dr. James MacKillop, Senior Scientist at Homewood Research Institute (HRI) and Director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research. Dr. MacKillop is overseeing research that will help to address this need for evidence in Canada.

One of the most pressing questions surrounding the therapeutic application of CBD relates to its potential for treating addiction – specifically, alcohol use disorder.

Jasmine Turna

Dr. Jasmine Turna

Recently, Dr. Jasmine Turna, an HRI Research Trainee and post-doctoral student working under Dr. MacKillop’s supervision, shared findings from a systematic review exploring CBD’s utility in treating alcohol use disorder. The review, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, sought to characterize existing literature from animal studies to evaluate the credibility of CBD as a potential treatment option for alcohol addiction.

In a webcast hosted by Homewood Health Centre on April 25th, Dr. Turna shared her findings with clinicians, researchers and other mental health professionals.

Three themes emerged from the literature review:

  1. CBD may have the potential to limit alcohol-related liver damage.
  2. CBD may reduce brain degeneration associated with alcohol use, thereby protecting cognition.
  3. CBD may influence factors like impulse control and anxiety, thereby possibly reducing the risk of relapse.

Previous research on CBD suggests that the compound has notable anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which may explain its potential to limit liver damage and neurodegeneration. CBD’s influence on relapse, on the other hand, could be attributed to its ability to affect risk factors associated with relapse, such as anxiety and impulsivity.

Next steps

While animal studies have generated promising findings, further research is now needed to determine whether these findings will translate to human studies. Dr. Turna’s review identifies three key areas in which CBD may produce therapeutic effects, providing clear avenues for human clinical trials. These include:

  1. Alcohol motivation: how does CBD affect cravings and withdrawal?
  2. Neurocognition: what effect does CBD have on the brain’s reward systems, learning, memory and cognitive function?
  3. Liver function: how does CBD impact liver enzymes indicative of liver health?

View the Webcast               Read the Article

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Do mental health apps work? HRI and The RBC Foundation want to find out.

As the need for mental health resources grows, technology will play an increasingly important role in the delivery of mental health services. In recent years, mental health apps have proliferated, providing smartphone users with fast and cost-effective access to portable resources that address everything from anxiety to eating disorders.

But how effective are mental health apps? With little to no research to support the claims of app developers, healthcare providers and consumers struggle to select and make the best use of these resources.

RBC funds project to help HRI find answers

A recent partnership between Homewood Research Institute (HRI) and The RBC Foundation will help to bring clarity to app users – particularly to youth who rely heavily on apps and smartphone technology.

The RBC Foundation has generously donated $207,000 to support a project aimed at examining the quality of mental health apps. HRI will work with faculty members from Harvard Medical School, including Dr. Yuri Quintana from the Division of Clinical Informatics at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, to carry out this research.

The funding announcement was made on May 9 at a public event hosted by HRI in Guelph, Ontario. Led by HRI, the mental health app project has two goals:

  1. Develop a framework to evaluate the effectiveness of mental health apps, and
  2. Identify top-quality apps aimed at addressing mental health problems, specifically among youth (pending further funding).

HRI has engaged Dr. Yuri Quintana, Director of Global Health Informatics at Harvard Medical School and a world leader in digital health services, to guide technical development on the project.

Building a roadmap for the future

As the field of digital psychiatry grows, so too does the need to identify credible online resources. By building tools that enable the large-scale evaluation of mental health apps, The RBC Foundation and HRI are helping to create an evidence-informed roadmap for future users of digital mental health services.

Outcomes of the project will be relevant to healthcare providers and other agencies around the globe that use mental health apps to supplement psychiatric treatment.

Representatives from the RBC Foundation proudly present HRI with funding to complete the mobile app project. (L-R: Mike DeBorger, Senior Account Manager, RBC; Rick Tessaro, Senior Account Manager, Real Estate, RBC; Francine Dyksterhuis, Regional President, Southwestern Ontario, RBC; Rob Schlegel, Chief Financial Officer, RBJ Schlegel Holdings; Dr. Roy Cameron, Executive Director, HRI; Mary Lou McCutcheon, Vice President, Commercial Financial Services, Agriculture, RBC; Mark Eaton, Vice President, Real Estate Markets, RBC; Cindy Chao, Senior Manager, Youth Strategy & Innovation, RBC)

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