CIHR funds Brock research on dementia, adolescent risk-taking behaviours

Newman Sze is passionate about nipping dementia in the bud.

Using a laboratory method he invented, the Brock University Professor of Health Sciences has discovered a protein structure, called isoDGR, that speeds up blood vessel damage and reduces oxygen supply to the brain.

“We now think that isoDGR-proteins could play a very important part in causing human dementia,” says the Canada Research Chair in Mechanisms of Health and Disease. “We want to measure levels in patient blood to see if we can figure out who is most likely to get this disease so that we can start treating people.”

Sze’s research, as well as the work of Associate Professor of Health Sciences William Pickett, recently received support through a Project Grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Pickett is also looking towards addressing future health challenges with his research on how teens’ traditional risk-taking behaviours – smoking and drinking, among others – are evolving.

The Associate Professor of Health Sciences is working with colleagues to bring together the research teams of two national, long-running adolescent health surveys to find out the nature and impacts of risk-taking in teens today.

“Historical declines in traditional risk behaviours are celebrated as public health triumphs, yet panels of young Canadians have told us emphatically that risk taking isn’t decreasing but is transitioning,” says Pickett.

“We aim to derive and evaluate new indicators of risk-taking along with traditional indicators, with the ultimate goal of enhancing surveillance nationally,” he says.

Brock University Vice-President, Research Tim Kenyon said the prestigious CIRH Project Grants are “evidence of the huge impact Dr. Sze’s and Dr. Pickett’s research teams are having on the health of Canadians, from youth to older adults.”

“Through their cutting-edge approaches, the teams are creating a critical mass of knowledge for interventions to enhance physical and mental health, now and in the future,” he says.

With his $757,350 grant, Sze’s project, “Immunotherapeutic targeting of vascular protein deamidation in age-linked dementia,” builds on his earlier research on how and why blood vessels become damaged, leading to an increase in age-related diseases such as heart disease, stroke and dementia.

In addition to developing new tools that measure isoDGR-proteins in blood, Sze and his team have also developed a new antibody treatment that can help the immune system recognize and remove the destructive proteins from the body, which so far has shown promising results.

He says his CIHR-funded research aims to determine the extent to which the team’s innovative antibody treatment can protect brain tissues against damage from isoDGR-proteins.

“If successful, this research will confirm that isoDGR-proteins can be used to find patients at high risk of dementia even before they get symptoms, so that we can start using new drug treatments to repair blood vessel and brain damages and prevent disease later on,” says Sze.

With his $547,300 grant, Pickett’s project, “Contemporary risk-taking by young Canadians: development of a new evidence base,” brings together research teams from the national COMPASS study, the Canadian Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study, which Pickett co-leads, and other key Brock collaborators including Professor of Health Sciences Terrance Wade and Assistant Professor of Health Sciences Valerie Michaelson.

The COMPASS study, led by University of Waterloo Professor Scott Leatherdale and Brock Associate Professor of Health Sciences Karen Patte, collects data on physical and mental health, behaviour and learning through yearly surveys of more than 60,000 secondary school students in five Canadian provinces.

The information is used to track changes in students’ health and well-being over time.

The HBSC study in Canada is part of a larger World Health Organization ongoing, cross-national study of you aged 11 to 15 years that collects information every four years on young people’s well-being, health behaviours and social contexts. The Canadian study collects anonymous data from students in grades 6 to 10 on a wide range of topics.

“By bringing the two groups together, this grant could do something really special for adolescent health research in Canada,” says Pickett.

According to the program website, CIHR’s Project Grant program is “designed to capture ideas with the greatest potential to advance health-related fundamental or applied knowledge, health research, health care, health systems and/or health outcomes.”

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