Dr. Stephanie Ameis recently joined the Child and Youth Mental Health Collaborative between CAMH, SickKids and U of T as the inaugural O’Brien Scholar, and a clinician-scientist in the Research Imaging Centre at CAMH and at SickKids Research Institute. The O’Brien Scholars Program, made possible by a generous donation from Gail and David O'Brien, was set up to attract and retain young child and adolescent mental health researchers to positions within the new Collaborative.
“The Collaborative provides an extraordinary opportunity as a researcher to take advantage of the clinical, academic and research strengths at both SickKids and CAMH. I am able to focus my clinical work at CAMH, continue to build on my collaborations and research focusing on brain imaging in child and adolescent psychiatry at SickKids, and begin a new neuroscience research program within CAMH’s Child, Youth and Family Program. It also allows for mentorship and support from more senior and established researchers in the field,” says Dr. Ameis, who is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine at U of T.
Dr. Ameis focuses her clinical work at CAMH on children and youth who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and concurrent mental health difficulties such as anxiety, problems with regulating behaviors, and symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity. The O’Brien Scholars Program allows her to dedicate time to her research at SickKids and CAMH, using brain imaging to understand more about how slight differences in brain structure and function contribute to the mental health challenges facing some children and adolescents.
Dr. Ameis became interested in research focused on ASD and in diffusion tenser imaging (DTI), a type of non-invasive brain imaging that can be used to study white matter tracts in the brain, during her Master's degree studies in neuroscience at the UK Institute of Psychiatry.
“Using this kind of brain imaging is of great interest because white matter tracts connect different regions of the brain. The high order processing that we do in our everyday lives, such as making quick decisions, changing course quickly and engaging in social interactions - processing that can be difficult for people with ASD - requires different parts of the brain to work together and be active in a synchronous way,” she says. Since there appears to be impaired connectivity in the brain for people with ASD, DTI may be used to help determine if something is going awry in the development of the white matter in the brain that may contribute to some of their processing difficulties.
Dr. Ameis will also be collaborating with CAMH’s Temerty Centre for Therapeutic Brain Intervention. They will be looking at how a promising new non-invasive brain stimulation treatment for some of the cognitive difficulties that adolescents and young adults with ASD face, may change brain structure in a way that improves their thinking abilities and everyday functioning.
Watch the video on this page to learn more about Dr. Ameis and how her clinical and research work aims to help young people with mental health challenges.