One in three Canadians – over 12 million people – will face a psychiatric disease, a neurological disorder or a brain or spinal cord injury at some point in their lives. This is a statistic that influences us and our immediate circle. Yet, the impact cannot be reduced to a number.

Launched in 2017, the Improving Health Outcomes and Quality of Life (IHO-QOL) competition aims to accelerate the impact of research on health outcomes, including quality of life, of people living with brain disorders. The competition is funded through the Canada Brain Research Fund with the financial support of Health Canada and institutional sponsors.

The program enables collaboration between multidisciplinary teams of researchers, clinicians, allied-health workers, carers, and patients. It channels the diversity of brain knowledge to advance the understanding and reduce the impact of brain disorders on the health of Canadians. The goal is to provide benefits to improve patient-oriented health outcomes, including quality of life, in the short-term.

“Canada is home to some of the best neuroscientists in the world, and we are pleased to support their work through the Brain Canada Foundation,” said Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health. “This research will help Canadians living with brain disorders to live healthy and productive lives.”

Could it be that exercise is the best medicine? Dr. Benjamin Goldstein of the Sunnybrook Research Institute and his colleagues received a $700,000 Improving Health Outcomes grants to improve aerobic fitness among adolescents with bipolar disorder. Despite its importance, there are no prior exercise intervention studies for teenagers with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar affects 2-5% of adolescents and is the fourth most disabling medical condition among adolescents worldwide. Even with treatment, adolescents with bipolar spend over half of the time with mood symptoms that impair quality of life. Adolescents with bipolar are also at higher risk for early cardiovascular disease compared to those without. Increasing aerobic fitness can improve both short-term and long-term mental health, physical health, and quality of life. This study will be the first to examine how to engage adolescents with bipolar to increase their aerobic fitness. In addition to scientists and clinician-scientists, the research team includes social workers, a mental health advocacy leader, an adolescent with bipolar disorder, and a parent of an adolescent with bipolar disorder. The team’s combination of expertise and experience will allow for a unique approach that would not be possible without integrating the perspectives of researchers, clinicians, and consumers.

The team will enroll 50 adolescents with bipolar in a 12-week program, specifically focused on improving aerobic fitness. The program will include individualized in-person counseling, weekly phone counseling to enhance motivation, coaching by a trained exercise professional, family focused counseling, and peer support. This patient-centered, flexible, personalized approach is intended to be feasible and effective across diverse settings and adolescents with bipolar disorder.

“We are grateful for the support of Brain Canada, which had provided us with the crucial funding needed to develop and pilot test a new behaviour change counselling intervention,” said Dr. Goldstein. “We are employing an established form of psychotherapy for a novel purpose in a complex population. We learned that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is unlikely to be well received, so we’ve opted for a ‘bespoke’ approach designed to fit the needs and preferences of each of our participants.”