This is the first blog introducing you to researchers at the IWK and Capital Health, aka the QEII.
I remember vividly the first time I met Rudolf Uher. It was late at night and I was catching up on my email. I got a packet of CVs to review because I was on a faculty selection committee. I sit on a lot of committees and, in a year, read hundreds of academic CVs. I had to review eight or ten CVs in preparation for a meeting the next day where the five members of the selection committee for a Canada Research Chair in the Department of Psychiatry at Dalhousie University would choose three candidates to visit and be interviewed for the job.
A Canada Research Chair is a prestigious research post. Each university has a very limited number of these federally funded positions. They are fiercely competed for. First of all the Department has to compete with other departments to get the opportunity to offer a CRC and then the applicants compete. Once the university selects a candidate, they are vetted by another peer review committee of scientists assembled by the Canada Research Chairs Secretariat.
By 10:30pm I am usually pretty sleepy and ready to call it a night. But all of a sudden I was wide awake. When reading a CV, I first check on basic qualifications of training and work experience, check to see what the area of research is. Then I spend more time on publications in the scientific literature and then I look at the grants. This set of candidates was exceptional and one stood out as being amazing in an exceptional group. Rudolf Uher’s CV was how I first met him and it was exciting.
Dr. Rudolf Uher studied medicine and neurosciences at Charles University in Prague, the Czech Republic and trained in Psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital in London, England. These are outstanding centres of training and research.
Dr. Uher’s research was broad but all focused on severe mental illness. His research included psychiatric genetics, pharmacogenetics, the interplay of genes and environment in the causation of mental illness, classification of psychopathology, treatment of depression, and use of clinical assessment and biomarkers to personalize treatment.
He had worked on some major international efforts and already had provided leadership in areas such as investigation of genetic based drugs for depression. He had published over a hundred scientific papers. WOW, I thought. He had only finished his training about a year before in 2010.
He interviewed brilliantly. He looked younger than he was and was quiet, personable and thoughtful.
His science was impeccable. Rudolf was offered the CRC and came to Halifax in 2012. Since that time he has shown all of us how to do great science. He set up a major new project, Families Overcoming Risks and Building Opportunities for Well-being (FORBOW), a very ambitious longitudinal cohort study, initially with funding from Capital Health but now funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. FORBOW explores the unfolding of severe mental illness which exacts a huge personal and financial toll on thousands of individuals and families in Nova Scotia. Serious mental illness is expensive to society because of very high treatment costs, social services costs and unemployment. FORBOW will continue for many years with different substudies examining specific issues.
Uher is trying to figure out how to prevent what happens before severe mental illness arises and is developing early interventions to promote mental health in youth. Some of these interventions are skills and others may be specific drug approaches that specifically fit each person. These are ambitious, groundbreaking ideas that build on his previous work. Dr. Uher has assembled a team of co-investigators to help him and he has attracted a star studded international advisory board to guide the research.
But Dr. Uher is also busy doing other things. He co-leads the Maritimes Depression Hub of the Canadian Depression Research and Intervention Network (CDRIN) and is active in half a dozen other studies as well as supervising trainees and teaching. He consults with patients at Capital Health and IWK.
His science is very well received internationally. He was named associate editor of the prestigious journal Depression and Anxiety and in 2014, he was awarded the International College of Neuropsychopharmacology, Max Hamilton Memorial Prize for his research. Last year his research was cited in over 900 other research papers and he published 19 articles in the international research literature. I would estimate that his scientific productivity is in the top 1% of scientists in the world (not Nova Scotia, not Canada but across the world).
Dr. Uher is an international star, bringing the latest science to help patients in Nova Scotia, discovering new knowledge that is of interest internationally and creating well paid research jobs here in Nova Scotia. Most importantly, he is giving hope and practical evidence-based assistance to families who have had to deal with major mental illness.
We are very lucky to have him here.
~Dr. Patrick McGrath