Dr. Lisa Kalynchuk
Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Neuroscience
With all the breakthroughs made in the field of medicine, it’s hard to believe that with the exception of Prozac, treatment of affective disorders like anxiety and depression has changed little in the past 50 years. But the University of Saskatchewan’s Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Neuroscience is determined to change all that.
Dr. Lisa Kalynchuk is utilizing her training in both psychology and neuroscience to tackle affective disorders from two directions – determining the triggers and symptoms of anxiety and depression in adults, and examining how the brain controls the development of the disorders. Working with animal models, Dr. Kalynchuk’s research is leading the way toward new and more effective treatments in the future.
“The important thing I see with using these kinds of animal models is that we can study both behavioural symptoms and neurobiological changes in the same animal. We have to understand what’s going on in the brain when a person develops an anxiety disorder or depression in order to develop treatments that work well, work quickly and have fewer side effects. There haven’t been a lot of people doing this kind of combined research, and that’s why we haven’t made a lot of progress with treatment. My diverse training allows me to bridge that gap.”
Of particular interest to Dr. Kalynchuk is the role stress plays in the development of affective disorders.
“I’m very interested in the finding out if stress really is causal, whether or not it can actually cause depression. There is a lot of strong correlative links between stress and depression and that’s what we’re trying to study in my lab with animal models.”
While she cannot produce depression indicators like suicidal ideation in rats, her work shows that stress can result in learning and memory problems, helpless-like behaviour and motivation problems in animals, the same symptoms commonly seen in people with depression. Going one step further, Dr. Kalynchuk is also exploring whether stressful early life events can actually program the brain in a way that increases or decreases a person’s susceptibility to anxiety or depression in adulthood.
The pay-off for her two-pronged research will be treatments that address both the symptoms of affective disorders, and the underlying changes in brain chemistry. But Dr. Kalynchuk stresses such treatments need not always be pharmacological. For example, her work with rat pups shows that providing interventions like enriched environments can counteract chemical changes in the brain that seem to increase susceptibility to depression later in life.
“We don’t have to have a magic bullet pill” she said. “Exercise could be just as good as Prozac for treating depression, and the more we can treat people without drugs the better.”
One important aspect of Dr. Kalynchuk’s research is knowledge translation, “how I take what I’m finding in my lab and translate it for the psychiatrist who is seeing patients this afternoon”. She believes that this cross-talk between researchers and practicing professionals “is critical every step of the way”.