CIHR Supports Carleton’s Leading Research Aimed at Improving the Health of all Canadians

Carleton University’s researchers have received over a million dollars in funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) to support leading projects on the how exposure to nature can benefit individual health, reducing Parkinson's-related neurodegeneration and understanding early life epilepsy.

“This funding from CIHR will enable Carleton to continue expanding its world-class research into areas that have a direct impact on the health and wellness of all Canadians,” says Rafik Goubran, vice-president (Research and International).

Paul Villeneuve, a professor in Department of Health Sciences, is leading an interdisciplinary team of researchers across several Canadian universities to determine whether living in close proximity to natural environments has a significant impact on an individual’s mental health and well-being.

“Over 80 per cent of Canadians live in urban areas and are exposed to traffic congestion, heat islands, and air and noise pollution,” says Villeneuve. “This vital funding will enable our lab and our partners such as Dan Crouse at the University of New Brunswick, to explore whether natural features, including green spaces and views of open water, improves the health of older adults who live in Canadian cities.”

Although previous studies have suggested that exposure to natural environments can benefit levels of well-being, there remains a lack of strong evidence. The study will develop methods to describe exposure to nature, including the application of deep learning techniques to identify specific features of nature within Google Street View images. The team will then describe the association between natural environments and indicators of positive well-being, including satisfaction with life, absence of depression and sleep disorders among participants of the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging.   The Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging, led by Parminder Raina at McMaster University, has collected data from nearly 50,000 adults 45 years of age and older from across Canada.

A hallmark of Parkinson's disease is the buildup of the neuronal protein alpha-synuclein. Some researchers believe it collects toxic oligomers which lead to neuronal death. With this in mind, Maria DeRosa, a professor in the Department of Chemistry, and Matthew Holahan, from the Department of Neuroscience, are looking at whether a DNA aptamer targeted to bind to alpha-synuclein can inhibit the buildup and reduce Parkinson's-related neurodegeneration.

“Without this CIHR funding, our team of Carleton students and researchers would not have the resources to determine if our DNA aptamer can inhibit neurodegenerative processes in Parkinson’s disease,” said DeRosa.  “We are grateful for this support from CIHR, as it will enable studies that bring new insights into the mechanism of the disease and take us one step closer to a possible therapeutic approach.”

Despite having a greater understanding and improved management of epilepsy, the disease continues to be a major problem in childhood. Early life epilepsy often does not respond to medical treatment and can result in serious long-term consequences.

Neurons in the brain are known to be heterogeneous, but these neurons may show very different activities during early life seizures.  For a precise understanding of early life epilepsy at the cellular level, Hongyu Sun, professor in the Department of Neuroscience, is selectively labelling neurons with different activities during seizures and analyzing their specific nature. 

“The identification of neurons active during early life seizures has never been done before,” said Sun. “We have found unique physiological alterations that occur only in selectively activated neurons in early life seizures. This funding will enable us to continue this vital and groundbreaking research.”

Sun believes that the selectively activated neurons have crucial roles in early life epilepsy. He will probe the potential to reverse early life epilepsy and associated long-term cognitive deficits by suppressing the activity of these neurons. If successful, his research will identify novel cellular and molecular mechanisms and reveal potential therapeutic strategies for controlling early life epilepsy.

Media Contact
Steven Reid
Media Relations Officer
Carleton University
613-520-2600, ext. 8718


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