Ontario Research Hospitals make our province and our health system smarter by attracting, training and retaining the next generation of health care professionals. Carley Richards, a trainee at The Royal, shares her experience diving into mental health research.
Meet Carley Richards
Throughout her teenage years, Carley Richards struggled with feeling depressed.
It wasn’t until her second year of university that she was actually diagnosed with depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). She finally had a piece of paper, with a diagnosis, that proved it wasn’t just “in her head.”
It was a change that would have a huge impact on her academic career.
“The brain is like a big unknown body of water that we’re only just dipping our toes into,” says Richards. “I realized the more we learn about and understand the brain, the more we’ll be able to help people like me.”
The Gut and the Brain
Now working toward a master’s degree in neuroscience at Carleton University, Richards is a research trainee under the supervision of Dr. Marie-Claude Audet, a researcher at The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR). She recently won a Graduate Student Research Award from the IMHR.
“Recent research has shown that people with depression have different bacteria in their digestive system than people without depression,” says Richards.
The goal of her research is to look at the microbiome of two different groups of people — those who have depressive symptoms and those who do not. She’s hoping to link trauma in a person’s life to changes in gut bacteria, and explore whether changes in gut bacteria are associated with depressive symptoms.
Life as a Young Researcher
“As a young researcher paying for my own education, I need funding to conduct my research, which means I need to apply for grants and scholarships,” she says.
“It can take a lot of time, and unfortunately for young researchers, there’s a lot of competition and rejection. It can be really tough to stay in research.”
The funding from the IMHR Graduate Student Research Award is helping Richards push her research project forward.
“When you’re stressed, your body releases certain chemicals,” she says. “I’m using this funding to purchase a lab kit that measures a specific binding agent that connects those stress chemicals to the bacteria in the gut.” By using this lab kit, it will be possible for Richards to measure those connections.
“We’re a long way from understanding the brain, but imagine if we could treat symptoms of depression by treating specific bacteria in your gut,” says Richards. “We’re not there yet, but it’s exciting to know I’m contributing to that possibility.”
The Graduate Student Research Awards are funded by The Royal’s Foundation. They fund research and education experiences for young researchers as they work to make a difference in the lives of people living with mental illness.
The Royal Ottawa Health Care Group is one of Ontario’s 24 research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Look for other RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog or join the conversation about why health research matters for Ontario on Twitter, using the hashtag #onHWS.