DMSC researchers receive NSERC grants to continue cannabis and reelin work

Division of Medical Sciences (DMSC) faculty Dr. Brian Christie and Dr. Hector Caruncho each received a 2020 NSERC Research Grant earlier this month.


Caruncho’s Discovery Grant will continue his lab’s research on reelin, a protein that can affect behaviour and neural plasticity (i.e., the brain’s ability to undergo structural or physiological changes).

This particular project will examine how reelin levels in the hypothalamus, a small region of the brain that plays a key role in hormone release and other bodily functions, are linked to stress.

PhD student Carla Liria—the primary student researcher on the project—will first study where and how the protein functions at the molecular level in this part of the brain. She will then see if chronic stress changes reelin levels and/or how it functions, and if reelin injections would have any affect on the neurochemical and behavioral changes caused by chronic stress.

Christie’s RTI grant will be used to purchase a vapor administration system and associated 1102191053_brian.jpgequipment to continue his lab’s work on the effects of cannabis and alcohol exposure on prenatal brain development. 

This will be the first system of its kind in BC, meaning MSc student Hannah Reid—the primary student researcher on the project—will be able to complete her work in-house at the DMSC. Previously, members of the Christie lab had to travel to San Diego State University (SDSU), where collaborators provided access the brain tissue needed for this research.

The purchase of these instruments will not signal the end of this partnership, however. Christie says the system will help enable continued collaboration with SDSU, as well as with the University of British Columbia, University of Houston, University of the Basque Country, several departments at the University of Victoria, and more in fields such as neuroscience, biology, biochemistry. The instruments will also give students unique training opportunities for sophisticated in vitro electrophysiology, immunohistochemistry and behavioural techniques.

Preliminary evidence from the Christie Lab suggests combined cannabis and alcohol exposure reorganizes and decreases the natural cannabis receptors in the brain, meaning offspring prenatally exposed to these substances could have reduced cognitive performance.