In the face of ever-increasing mental illness and with its unswerving risk to suicide and harmful behavior, fourth-year biology student Aaron Howe is currently devising treatments for mental health patients. Currently, he is examining the genetic markers of suicide risk in persons with neuropsychiatric disorders with a primary focus on patients with schizophrenia spectrum disorders.
Working in close association with Dr. Vincenzo De Luca, a clinician-scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto, Howe is trying to determine appropriate pharmacological treatments for mental health patients.
According to Howe, “the findings from the study itself cannot be applied to a cure for mental illness, but rather will be considered in a more general sense.
“Our primary focus is to discover genetic and gene-environment risks in patients with mental illness, primarily schizophrenia so they don’t attempt suicide.”
He explained that the suicide rate is very high among patients with mental illness. He will be able to achieve his goals if the current research allows them to identify the particular interactions between genes and the environment, which is associated with significantly reducing suicide.
“Our study will contribute to several other studies investigating suicide and hopefully gain more knowledge about establishing better intervention with clinicians and patients,” he said.
When asked how he got involved in the research, Howe answered that it was the novelty of the research that got him interested to begin with, not to mention the fact that only a small number of scientists are directly investigating the genetic etiology of suicidal behavior in schizophrenia.
So, if he could help increase the knowledge about the disease, then patients will have better treatment outcomes, Howe said. Further, recent increase of mental health awareness had made it even more important to delve into this research area.
Being presented with several prestigious scholarships, including the Institute of Medical Sciences funding award for undergraduate research, the Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology summer program award and the Trent National Renewable Scholarship, are just some of his achievements here at Trent. However, according to Howe, the biggest accomplishment has been the opportunity to meet the people he has met over the years.
“I think they helped me learn valuable lifelong lessons to become a better person,” he expressed.
His future endeavors include M.D. and M.D./PhD programs at the University of Ottawa and McMaster University. “Ultimately, I would like my future to be oriented towards helping others afflicted by disease and illness,” Howe reported.
“This is exceptionally important to me because I have seen countless people affected by illness including members of my immediate and extended family. I also have been affected by illness as well, and I think the most important aspect of research is health awareness which is identifying potential risks and or giving individuals with treatment that will be successful.”
Howe is originally from Ajax, Ontario. When he is not in his lab contributing to the scientific world, he can be caught doing landscapes and nature photography. He is also interested in artistic expressions and music, mainly productions of sounds like sonics, beats, drums and reverb.