CALGARY, AB--(Marketwired - November 10, 2016) - A new partnership between the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre (SKCAC) and the University of Calgary's Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education will study the impact of child abuse on the developing brain. The goal is to use a scientific approach to understand which interventions work best to mitigate the impact of child abuse, to compare the impact of childhood sexual abuse to that of other forms of childhood trauma, and to understand why some children are more resilient than others.
"I am so excited to see this collaboration between the SKCAC and the Mathison Centre to examine the impact of childhood abuse on the neurobiological and psychosocial development of young victims," says Sheldon Kennedy, Lead Director at the SKCAC. "For 20 years I've been working to help people really understand the impacts of child abuse; make the invisible visible. This research will help us do exactly that."
As part of this study, children will receive an MRI scan of their brain to determine differences in structure and chemistry between participants who have experienced child abuse and those who have not. Researchers will also take saliva samples to analyze DNA, which could indicate epigenetic changes (changes in the genome caused by external factors) caused by environmental influences such as stress. Such epigenetic modifications of DNA structure caused by toxic stress could in turn lead to changes in brain structure, function and chemistry.
"Despite emerging evidence that child abuse impacts the developing brain, the nature and extent of the effects are not well understood," says Dr. Paul Arnold, child psychiatrist and Director of the Mathison Centre at UCalgary's Cumming School of Medicine. "This study will impact care and provide a framework for personalized care informed by science."
This first phase of the study is a two-year pilot study enrolling 240 children ages six to 17. Half of the study participants will be controls, and half will have experienced childhood abuse. The study will look at clinical and biological factors and how they relate to outcomes. After the initial pilot study, researchers hope to expand the study and enroll up to 1,000 children and follow them over a 10-15 year time period. The planned longitudinal study will be one of the most comprehensive studies of child abuse victims ever conducted.
The SKCAC screens about 125 children for child abuse each month, with two-thirds of those cases related to sexual abuse. Childhood abuse increases the risk for mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide.
"Brain and mental health research partnerships with our community enable University of Calgary scientists to put knowledge into action and ultimately improve the lives of the children, youth and families we serve. We look forward to working closely with Sheldon and the Child Advocacy Centre on this vital new project," says Samuel Weiss, PhD, Director of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and leader of the University of Calgary's Brain and Mental Health strategy.
Led by the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI), Brain and Mental Health is one of six strategic research themes guiding the University of Calgary towards its Eyes High goals.
About the University of Calgary
The University of Calgary is making tremendous progress on its journey to become one of Canada's top five research universities, where research and innovative teaching go hand in hand, and where we fully engage the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is called Eyes High, inspired by the university's Gaelic motto, which translates as 'I will lift up my eyes.'
For more information, visit ucalgary.ca. Stay up to date with University of Calgary news headlines on Twitter @UCalgary. For details on faculties and how to reach experts go to our media centre at ucalgary.ca/news/media.
About the Cumming School of Medicine
The University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine is a leader in health research, with an international reputation for excellence and innovation in health care research and education. We train the next generation of health practitioners, and take new treatments and diagnostic techniques from the laboratory to the patient, always keeping in mind our goal: Creating the Future of Health.
The medical school was created in 1967 and on June 17, 2014, was formally named the Cumming School of Medicine in recognition of Geoffrey Cumming's generous gift to the university.
For more information, visit cumming.ucalgary.ca, or follow us on Twitter @UCalgaryMed.
About The Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education
The Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education supports research and education into the early identification, prevention and treatment of mental illness, with a special emphasis on youth populations. Created by the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and the Department of Psychiatry, The Mathison Centre partners with the Cumming School of Medicine and other faculties at the University of Calgary to inform mental health care strategies in our community and offer new hope to families in Calgary, throughout Alberta and the world. mathison.ucalgary.ca.
About the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre
The Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre is transforming how the current system responds to child abuse by using a ground-breaking model of integration with six partnering agencies. Together, these agencies provide early-intervention, assessment, investigation and treatment to children, youth and families impacted by the most severe and complex cases of child abuse. The power of the Centre is unleashed through integrated services -- the right support at the right time -- that reduce the long-term impact of trauma and enable children, youth and families to recover to lead healthy, productive lives.