My research in mental health began in 1989 with a series of studies on Expressed Emotion, an attitude in families that was presumed to be stressful to patients with schizophrenia. After several cross-sectional and quasi-experimental studies we concluded that the High EE family attitudes that predict relapse are, in fact, the effect on the family of living with a relapse-prone patient.
This work led me an interest in the causes of schizophrenia, with the idea that different patterns of genetic and environmental causes could produce the different types of symptom profiles to which families react. This began the EnviroGen research program, in which we have been assesing as many known genetic and environmental risk factors for schizophrenia as possible.
In the first phase of the EnviroGen program we have been evaluating these risk factors in people with a psychotic disorder, mostly schizophrenia, and linking the risk factors to various dimensions of the illness itself. It is becoming increasingly apparent that psychotic symptoms are not limited to individuals with a psychotic disorder, but that they are experienced to a milder extent in a substantial proportion of the general population.
In the second phase of the EnviroGen research program, we assessed psychotic-like symptoms and a handful of risk factors in more than 2,000 Montrealers. Next, we conducted in-depth assessments of nearly 70 individuals. The EnviroGen projects are giving us important new information about how genes and environmental factors interact to influence clinical outcomes.
Given the lab’s interest in stress, we took advantage of a local natural disaster to begin a new and unique project. When the ice storms of January 1998 plunged more than 3 million Quebecers into darkness for as long as 45 days, we seized the opportunity to study the effects of stress on pregnant women, their pregnancies, and their unborn children. We have been following a group of 150 families, in which the mother was pregnant during the ice storm or became pregnant shortly thereafter, in order to observe the immediate effects of different levels and types of stress on the unborn children. We continue to follow these children, who will begin turning 11 years old in January 2009, with cognitive, behavioural, and physical assessments, and now with brain MRI scans. Over the years, these research programs have been funded by federal and provincial granting agencies and foundations; the MRI study is being funded by the March of Dimes Foundation in the United States.
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