SFU postdoctoral researcher wins major fellowship
Postdoctoral fellow Stefanie Rezansoff’s interest in enhancing the quality of life for people living with severe mental illness and concurrent substance dependence has attracted attention from UNESCO and the L’Oréal Foundation.
She is one of just two Canadian postdoctoral fellows to receive a L’Oréal-UNESCO fellowship, which recognizes and supports female researchers. It is the latest in a long list of accolades for Rezansoff.
“Receiving the L’Oréal-UNESCO fellowship was a huge surprise,” she says. “I am very grateful to have the importance of my research affirmed by such a prestigious organization, and as part of the broader UNESCO agenda.”
Rezansoff enrolled at SFU in 2009 as an unclassified graduate student after earlier completing an undergraduate degree in commerce at the University of Saskatchewan. She was originally discouraged from applying to the Master of Population and Public Health program but, undeterred, she applied anyway. Not only did she do well in the program, she was awarded the Dean’s Convocation Medal recognizing her outstanding academic achievements. She continued to excel while earning a PhD in the Faculty of Health Sciences, becoming the first student in SFU history to win two Dean of Graduate Studies Convocation Medals.
During her PhD studies, she worked as a research assistant with professor Julian Somers’ research group, where she was exposed to a variety of issues surrounding mental illness, addiction, crime, security, and human displacement. The experience led to her interest in studying adherence to prescribed medication for severe mental illnesses.
“My time as a research assistant in the Somers Research Group provided a really solid foundation for the more specialized drug-related research I'm currently working on,” says Rezansoff.
One of her key research findings is that adherence to drugs is generally very low amongst those with mental illness. She found prescribed antipsychotic medications are taken less than 50 per cent of the time among this population.
People living with schizophrenia are also more likely to be homeless or involved in crime. When combined with other problems such as substance dependence and poverty, this increases the risk of hospitalization, incarceration and even death.
However, after using an experimental design, Rezansoff found that providing rental housing dramatically increases adherence to antipsychotic medications among previously homeless people with schizophrenia.
Currently, Rezansoff is investigating whether using opioid agonist treatment, such methadone, will increase antipsychotic drug adherence amongst those who are living with schizophrenia and who have opioid dependence. This research is supported by postdoctoral fellowships from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.
Existing research suggests that methadone increases adherence to infectious disease treatments, so it will be interesting to see if it has a similar effect on antipsychotics. The outcome of this research is particularly relevant for local policy makers and clinicians, given the opioid crisis in Vancouver.