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Funding International Discovery

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(Picture: Drs. Lena Palaniyappan (Left) and Subrata Chakrabarti (Right).

Drs. Lena Palaniyappan and Subrata Chakrabarti are forging new international research collaborations with the West China School of Medicine thanks to the Kilborn Family Memorial Visiting Scholar Fund.

The Fund was established by Dr. Robert M. Kilborn in 2013 as a way of building an ongoing relationship between Canadian physicians and the West China Centre of Medical Sciences (WCCMS) by promoting joint research and innovation, and strengthen collaborative partnerships between the two Schools.

The Fund honours the contributions made by members of the Kilborn Family to the founding and development of the faculty of medicine and health sciences at WCCMS in Chengdu, Sichuan, China.

Dr. Palaniyappan’s research is focusing on schizophrenia, meanwhile Dr. Chakrabarti is focused on diabetes.

Dr. Chakrabarti believes that there are great advantages to being involved in international, collaborative research projects.  

“This is a unique opportunity because it allows for the injection of new thought processes. Other aspects, from a scientific standpoint, will help us to find out whether similar mechanisms as we see in Canada are in place in China,” he said.

Dr. Chakrabarti is exploring the epigenetic mechanisms involved with chronic diabetic complications. He is working with Dr. Huiwen Tan at the West China School of Medicine, and as they unravel more epigenetic mechanisms, they aim to determine which mechanisms are specifically important to the study of diabetes so that potential treatment targets can be launched.

Dr. Chakbarti and Dr. Tan are still in the early phases of their research, however, they have completed their initial discussions and preliminary experiments so far.

“We have identified some mechanisms with respect to chronic diabetic complications. This project will further investigate these at multiple levels of complexities in an attempt to develop specific treatments for chronic diabetic complications,” he said.

Since diabetes is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, Dr. Chakrabarti believes this research may be able to identify and target several specific chronic diabetic complications and has the potential to answer long-standing questions about the disease.

Dr. Palaniyappan, says curiosity and being discovery-driven are some of the main motivations behind research.

Working on research with Dr. Tao Li in China, he is investigating whether a specific brain structural feature, called ‘gyrification’, can categorize patients with schizophrenia experiencing poor functional outcome from those with more favourable outcomes.

Dr. Palaniyappan has been able to demonstrate the first-ever findings related to different connectivity states in the brain during opposing poles of mood states, such as mania and depression. He relates this achievement to pooling resources with his collaborators in China – something that would not have been possible without this Fund.

They have also developed two of the largest resting-state neuroimaging studies to date in schizophrenia literature.

 “A lot of what we think we know changes drastically when we start looking at other regions and communities. International projects provide an opportunity for us to examine these issues systematically,” Dr. Palaniyappan said.

After a patient has their first-episode of psychosis, clinicians currently have no means to prognosticate what the short-term or long-term outcome will be for them. Dr. Palaniyappan believes his research, if successful, may be able to translate a predictive framework from scanners to clinical service with collaborative research

“Neuroimaging holds the promise to become an important prognostic tool in psychiatry,” he said.

And while having strong-collaborators and access to some of the best technologies and facilities are necessary to execute these cutting-edge research projects, Drs. Chakrabarti and Palaniyappan both emphasize the importance of the funding they have received in order to move forward with their work.

“The Kilborn Family Memorial Visiting Scholar Fund is instrumental in our ability to further expand our research at an international level. Without such funding we would not be able to build such collaboration,” said Dr. Chakrabarti.

Echoing these ideas, Dr. Palaniyappan said, “This support has enabled us to sustain our collaborative exchange and strengthen it further through mutual learning.”