Funded Research: Todd Woodward

Vancouver, BC – The MIND Foundation of BC can change lives. Researcher Dr. Todd Woodward can attest to this. As a 2006 grant recent recipient of the Dr. Norma Calder Schizophrenia Research Fund, Dr. Woodward acknowledges that his focus on leading-edge schizophrenia research in British Columbia would not exist without the MIND Foundation. “I first heard about the fund from fellow student, who used a MIND Foundation (then called the Calder Foundation) operating grant to hire me to analyze data on her research project. I was immediately drawn to the field and the opportunity for support from the MIND Foundation, and have not looked back.”

Since that time, Dr. Woodward’s research has concentrated on examining how brain systems are related to symptoms such as disorganized thoughts or delusions.   “I would not be studying schizophrenia without the assistance of the Calder research funding. The funding was a good kick-start, allowing me to hire others to collect new data so I could focus on writing and publishing research papers based on data that I collected. If you don’t publish your results, collecting data is futile.” Through that start, Dr. Woodward went on to accumulate enough experience and accolades to compete successfully for national level funding.

Now an established member of the research community, he has received the distinguished Michael Smith Scholar Award, which provides for 6 years of salary support. To compliment this, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Riverview Hospital, NARSAD, BC Mental Health and Addiction Services, and the MIND Foundation of BC have all made commitments to fund operating costs.

Dr. Woodward’s research primarily involves examining how specific brain systems relate to the symptoms of schizophrenia.   Much of the data was gathered in the Cognitive Research Lab at Riverview Hospital. Many patients were keenly interested in participating in his research. “People like being part of the projects. They are the kings when they are in the lab, and their time commitment is frequently acknowledged and thanked. Some people even ask for more involvement when the testing is done. They are also given nominal compensation for their time to emphasize our appreciation of their involvement.”

Interviews conducted with the patients include rating their symptoms over the past week, memory testing, decision-making, and reporting their impression of their own performance. Another type of testing is carried out at UBC using brain imaging equipment. MRI or fMRI gives a picture of which brain systems may underlie symptoms, allowing researchers to better understand brain functioning in psychosis. 1

Our hope is that such expanded knowledge will one day lead to a cure for schizophrenia.   Currently, the ability to measure the brain systems underlying symptoms assists researchers like Todd Woodward in developing tracking systems for early intervention. This may help identify young people at risk, allowing effective treatment options in the prodromal (early) stages of the disease rather than waiting for a descent into full-blown psychosis.   Past research suggests that early intervention can lessen the impact of the illness. Behavioural and biological measures of cognitive functioning may allow researchers to see when brain systems begin to change; the ultimate goal is to find out why. Dr. Woodward’s research is also concerned with using these measures to predict relapse, and ultimately how to prevent it.

Schizophrenia is responsible for a demonstrable burden on our economy. The total cost of schizophrenia to Canadians, including health care (more hospital beds are used by patients with schizophrenia than any other disease), is estimated to be $6.85 billion per year. This figure was released by the journal Current Medical Research and Opinion in 2005.   However, research funding for schizophrenia is extremely limited compared to funding for research on cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.

Many scientists like Dr. Woodward are aware of the huge discrepancy in funding for schizophrenia, and join with the MIND Foundation and the BC Schizophrenia Society to encourage governments, foundations and individual donors to provide more support. More support, in turn, attracts more young scientists to schizophrenia research, and so the momentum continues to grow.

Dr. Woodward is pleased by the advances he has been able to make even on the limited funds awarded. Increased research has so many positive benefits which extend not only to patients, students and health professionals, but also to family organizations, educators and counsellors, governments and other support agencies – eventually contributing to the physical and economic well being of our whole society.

Schizophrenia affects one in 100 people, with the predominant age of onset between 15 and 25 years old (more prevalent than Type 1 Diabetes or Alzheimer’s). If treated early, schizophrenia can be managed effectively, allowing for a reasonable quality of life. If not diagnosed and treated, this brain disease can cause continued psychotic episodes that may reduce an individual’s quality of life to homelessness (33% of Canada’s homeless are mentally ill), revolving periods in jail (6% of Canadian inmates have schizophrenia), or at the very worst, suicide (7% of all suicides are attributed to schizophrenia in Canada).

Donations supporting the MIND Foundation’s investment in funding new and dynamic research have contributed to the ability of researchers such as Dr. Woodward to continue his work investigating the brain systems underlying symptoms of schizophrenia, and to motivate other scholars to take up schizophrenia research as their focus. The MIND Foundation continues to fund leading-edge research in the field, and helps in the development of knowledge that is so crucial to the mission of the BC Schizophrenia Society: to improve the quality of life for those affected by schizophrenia and psychosis, through education, support, research and public policy.

1MRI = Magnetic Resonance Imaging or fMRI = functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging


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