May 21, 2024

Aislin Mushquash of Lakehead University’s dept. of psychology says a new Canadian network will transform how mental health trials are conducted

THUNDER BAY — Federal funding is supporting  a new initiative aimed at improving mental health care for children across the country, including some research in Thunder Bay.

Aislin Mushquash, associate professor of psychology at Lakehead University, is the local lead for the Child and Youth Mental Health Trials Network which she feels “will ultimately transform how Canadian child and youth mental health trials are developed and conducted.”

The network will be guided by a team of researchers from 12 institutions in six provinces.

The government-funded Canadian Institutes of Health Research is allocating $150,000 to get the project off the ground, through the Accelerating Clinical Trials Consortium.

The funding is a critical first step, but the network is also exploring partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and tech start-ups to build on their findings and to streamline medication access for families.

Officials say treatments developed through these partnerships could be put into a clinical care setting, thereby allowing children and youth to access safe therapies vetted and formulated for their specific needs.

Seventy-five per cent of mental health disorders emerge before the age of 25, and one in every eight children under 18 has a mental health disorder requiring specialized services.

Mushquash said the network will provide critical infrastructure for researchers and community partners to develop “studies that reflect real-world complexities, to recruit diverse and representative populations, and to conduct multi-centre trials across the country.”

She plans to ensure the unique circumstances of youth and community partners in Northwestern Ontario are reflected in what the network does.

“One of the priorities for me is really making sure that when we think about clinical trials and projects, the needs of underserved or remote regions like ours are factored in.

“So I could see collaborations with various child mental health organizations in Thunder Bay and surrounding regions. . . a lot of the organizations that I already have partnerships with,” Mushquash said in an interview Wednesday.

“We’ll be able to bring them in more officially, and seek their input about what will be important for their needs getting met.

“And I think one of the cool things about this network is it’ll be able to connect the researchers across the country who have specific expertise around these big studies with smaller clinical settings that might not have the internal resources to be able to conduct projects like this.”

Mushquash expects to be able to identify the needs of community organizations and then match those up with people across Canada who have the skills and time to develop and run projects in collaboration with local groups.

She runs her own randomized control trials already, but said it takes a lot of time for one person working on their own.

“If you gather support from across the country, it just brings a lot more knowledge into the system, and capacity for local community organizations, but also for trainees to learn about this, and be the next generation of people who can do this work.”




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