Research Spotlight: The Royal

Research Spotlight: The Royal

Similar early risk factors found for sexual and violent non-sexual offenders

Feature Photo: Kelly Babchishin, lead author of the ground-breaking new study

Sex offenders and violent non-sexual offenders’ birth and parent risk factors are more alike than they are different, according to a ground-breaking new study from The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR) and the Karolinska Institutet (Sweden).

The study, “Parental and Perinatal Risk Factors for Sexual Offending in Men: A Nationwide Case-Control Study,” was recently published in Psychological Medicine, a prestigious and frequently cited scientific journal.

“A breadth of evidence suggests the factors around our birth and the characteristics of our parents are important predictors of a wide range of later life outcomes,” says the paper’s main author, Dr. Kelly Babchishin of The Royal’s IMHR, affiliated with the University of Ottawa. “We found that birth factors and parental characteristics similarly predict both sexual and violent non-sexual offenders.

Dr. Kelly Babchishin recently received a prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research as well as the John Charles Polanyi Prize for young researchers.

Gathering the evidence: collaborating with international partners

Through collaboration with the Karolinska Institutet, this research used Sweden’s detailed national registries giving Babchishin and her five fellow researchers, including Dr. Michael Seto, IMHR’s Director of Forensic Mental Health Research, access to a huge volume of accurate data for this study. The researchers looked at birth factors (such as birth weight and size) and parental factors (such as parents’ age, education level, past history of mental illness, and criminal history) for 13,773 male sexual offenders, 135,953 male violent non-sexual offenders, and a control group of more than 740,000 men.

Ground-breaking findings challenge current theories

“There’s considerable overlap in the factors that increase one’s chance of committing sexual offences or violent non-sexual offences. Surprisingly, we did not find risk factors that were unique to sexual offending in this particular study,” says Babchishin, noting that Canadian and Swedish demographics, crime rates and other indicators are similar enough to expect the results to be applicable in Canada.

“The results were very surprising because most theories, public policies and treatments for sexual offending assume this is a unique form of crime and that unique factors must be involved,” says Seto.

The main predictors of future violent criminality, sexual or otherwise, are having young parents with criminal records, psychiatric issues, or lower education; and indicators of poor maternal health, such as low birth weight.

This means interventions tackling maternal health and parent resources could result in fewer offences of both kinds.

Towards a path for prevention

“The purpose of the research is not to stigmatize, but to know what to focus on when it comes to preventing sexual violence from occurring in the first place,” Babchishin says. “These findings suggest prevention efforts aimed at increasing parental education and helping parents cope with mental health problems, as well as maternal health initiatives, could not only reduce sexual offending, but violent offending as well.”

Babchishin is a joint post-doctoral fellow with IMHR and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. Last year, she received a prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research as well as the John Charles Polanyi Prize for young researchers. The study team included researchers from The Royal’s IMHR, the Karolinska Institutet, and the University of Oxford.

Seto says there are more studies in the works to better understand what causes people to commit sexual offences. “This study is the first of a number of planned collaborations that will look at risk factors for sexual offending, across the lifespan, in order to better understand its causes,” he says.
“We hope the results will make important contributions to how we respond to sexual offending.”


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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.

Turnstone Biologics: Highlighting how Health Research Makes Ontario Wealthier

Turnstone Biologics scientists

Turnstone Biologics: Highlighting how Health Research Makes Ontario Wealthier

An Ontario biotech start-up, Turnstone Biologics Inc. (Turnstone), has secured $41.4 million in new private investments to continue advancing cancer immunotherapy.

Turnstone was founded in 2015 to advance the development of novel oncolytic viral immunotherapies for cancer. The company’s technology is based on research led by Dr. John Bell (from The Ottawa Hospital and uOttawa – pictured middle), Dr. Brian Lichty (from McMaster University – pictured right) and Dr. David Stojdl (from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario [CHEO] and uOttawa – pictured left).

The company’s series B financing is led by new investor OrbiMed, the largest investment firm dedicated to the healthcare sector globally, with participation from new investor F-Prime Capital Partners – both private investors from outside of Ontario.

Turnstone’s financing success highlights the capacity of Ontario’s health research enterprise to draw significant investment into our province, helping to drive Ontario’s knowledge and innovation economy by creating new jobs and bringing new products to market. Turnstone continues to receive support from existing investors FACIT and Versant Ventures, which led the company’s series A financing.

Turnstone’s most advanced product is an oncolytic Maraba virus that is engineered to express melanoma-associated antigen A3 (MAGEA3). This is currently being tested in a clinical trial led by The Ottawa Hospital, sponsored by the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, and funded by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. Full results are expected to be released in 2017. Read more about it in this CAHO Catalyst story.

“This financing is incredible validation that we’re on the right track. We all want to be part of a scientific narrative that changes lives, and I believe that our immunotherapy approach is it.” – David Stojdl, senior scientists from CHEO and associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

“We have had tremendous success with our technology so far, but this financial support as a commercial venture is essential in enhancing our ability to bring it to the bedside. We know there is so much potential.” – Brian Lichty, associate professor at McMaster University

“Community support has been and will continue to be crucial for our research. However developing new therapies is extremely costly, so we also need to engage the private sector to take our research to the next level. I want to express my deep gratitude to all the people who have helped get us to this exciting place.” – John Bell, senior scientist, The Ottawa Hospital; professor, University of Ottawa

A Few Facts

  • This is believed to be the largest venture capital (VC) deal in Ottawa since 2013, and the second largest biotech VC deal in Canada in 2016 (data obtained from Invest Ottawa).
  • The top journal Science called cancer immunotherapy the “breakthrough of the year” in 2013.
  • Numerous organizations have supported the research team, including the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, Angels of Hope, BioCanRx, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CHEO Foundation, Hair Donation Ottawa, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation and the Terry Fox Research Institute.

Read more about Turnstone’s financing success:

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Ontario’s 24 research hospitals contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Look for other examples on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter website and blog, and join the conversation about why health research matters for Ontario on Twitter, using the hashtag #onHWS.

Health and Community Leaders Talk: Nancy Schepers

Ontario's health research hospitals make our province healthier, wealthier, and smarter

Health and Community Leaders Talk: Nancy Schepers

The HWS campaign is a platform for collaboration. That’s why this blog series is co-authored by community and health leaders from across the province to share their insights on why health research matters for Ontarians and our economy. Nancy Schepers, former Deputy Manager of the City of Ottawa, was recently interviewed by the Ottawa Citizen about her diagnosis of leukemia, and the impact of care and research at The Ottawa Hospital. Her story is “a real-life example of how research and scientific progress is changing some cancer diagnoses from almost certain death sentences, for some patients, to manageable chronic illnesses”. Thank you, Nancy, for adding your voice to the HWS conversation.
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HWS Field Trips: Ottawa

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RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Bruyère Research Institute

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