Throughout her teenage years, Carley had her own struggles 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”.
“Because I have ADHD I get easily distracted so it was tough to focus on an exam. I wasn’t doing well.” she says. “I went to the student centre and they provided a special area where I could focus. Without the ADHD diagnosis I wouldn’t have known to ask for accommodations to help me succeed.”
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 Carley. “I realized the more we learn about and understand the brain, the more we’ll be able to help people like me.”
Now working toward a Masters in neuroscience though Carleton University, Carley is a research trainee under the supervision of Dr. Marie-Claude Audet, a Research Scientist at The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR).
“Recent research has shown that people with depression have different bacteria (microbiome) in their digestive system than people without depression,” says Carley.
The goal of her research is to look at 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.
When asked how this award impacts her, Carley says “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. 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 Carley 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 Carley 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 Carley. “We’re not there yet, but it’s an exciting to know I’m contributing to that possibility.”
The IMHR Graduate Student Research Award is generously funded by The Jennie James Depression Research Fund, The Allison Lees Depression Research Fund and The Louise Helen Waddington Research Fund – through The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.