May 26, 2021 – Two BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services Research Institute researchers, Dr. Donna Lang and Dr. Todd Woodward, have received $25,000 each to help fund the next stages of research projects that aim to improve the lives of people with schizophrenia.

Dr. Donna Lang and Dr. Todd Woodward

​The British Columbia Schizophrenia Society Foundation​ announced the winners of the competition, which was designed to help mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on research, in May.

Dr. Lang’s study, which started in 2011, investigates the relationship between cardiovascular fitness, or heart health, and the severity of symptoms in patients with chronic schizophrenia. The current phase of the project was expected to take two more years, but pandemic restrictions have caused delays as health authorities recommend all participants in non-urgent research studies be vaccinated before taking part. 

Mitigating heart risks and investigating brain changes in people with schizophrenia

​“Many antipsychotic medications are known to cause an increase in heart problems,” says Dr. Lang. “Thanks to this funding, we are able to continue our important work to establish heart and stroke risks in patients on these medications. The funds will be used to collect a new type of imaging in those with psychotic disorders — imaging which is expected to be a more accurate assessment of abnormalities than any other type available. Thanks to this funding, we can fully explore the health risks that reduce expected lifespan in patients with psychotic disorders by 15–20 years.”

Dr. Woodward’s study is investigating changes in the brain that result from participating in group-based treatment for delusions and group-based treatment for cognitive impairment in schizophrenia. His $25,000 prize will be used to fund analysis of data that was collected over a five-year period and prepare it for publication. 

“We are extremely excited to be helping ensure that these researchers are able to continue their efforts to advance our understanding of schizophrenia.”

“The pandemic brought a number of challenges to our project, including cutting our data collection phase short,” says Dr. Woodward. “However, thanks to this funding from the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society Foundation, we can put the necessary resources into analyzing our now-complete data and publishing findings to help build on the knowledge of this complex patient population. Our hope is that this study will improve the lives of those with schizophrenia by providing new biological targets for neuromodulation — the process of using weak electrical impulses on the scalp to bias brain function to a healthier state that may respond better to regular treatments.”

Expanding the knowledge base of complex mental health disorders to improve care

The BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services Research Institute, where both Dr. Lang and Dr. Woodward conduct their research, is dedicated to advancing the understanding of people with complex mental health disorders in B.C. Dr. Jehannine Austin, executive director of the institute, recognizes the importance of funding like this.

“Thanks to the support of foundations and donors like the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society Foundation, our researchers have the resources they need to find new evidence about illnesses like schizophrenia,” Dr. Austin says.

“Not only does this evidence improve our knowledge of mental health conditions, it is also applied directly to patient care. Part of our mandate at the research institute is knowledge exchange — the process of integrating our research into program design. With projects like those led by Dr. Lang and Dr. Woodward, we can provide new, evidence-based treatment to mental health clients to improve their treatment, recovery and quality of life.”

Funding for the competition came from the foundation’s donors, with the aim of supporting projects that experienced pandemic-related delays or complications, like adopting new operational approaches during lockdown or testing participants while adhering to physical distancing guidelines. 

(Originally published on the BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services website on May 26, 2021,