Chantel Kowalchuk

Chantel Kowalchuk, Institute of Medical Science

Supervisor:  Dr Margaret Hahn (Clinician-Scientist, CAMH) and Dr Gary Remington (Senior Scientist & Chief of Schizophrenia, CAMH)

PhD thesis Title: Investigating Antipsychotic Drug-Induced Impairment of Central Energy Homeostasis

Overview: The aim of my research was to discover why antipsychotic medications (drugs used for schizophrenia/depression/bipolar disorder) cause type 2 diabetes. This serious side effect contributes to a decreased lifespan of 20-25 years in patients with schizophrenia, so determining the mechanism could have a great impact on improving patient outcomes and creating drugs that do not have this detrimental side effect.

My proudest discovery during my PhD was determining that antipsychotics can cause insulin resistance in the brain of rats. Prior to my research, antipsychotic drugs were generally thought to induce diabetes by dysregulating the liver and pancreas; my research was one of the first to indicate that the brain was also involved. This suggested an additional organ to consider when treating antipsychotic-induced diabetes. It also eluded to a potential connection between the therapeutic effects of antipsychotics (which is via the brain), and the diabetic effects of antipsychotics.

I followed up on this finding with research investigating the potential mechanisms behind the insulin resistance. Specifically, I studied the effects of antipsychotics on proteins related to insulin signalling & energy homeostasis, and on a key potassium channel involved in energy regulation. In total, I published 10 papers during my PhD, and was the first author on 6 of these papers.

During my PhD, I was also highly involved in the Institute of Medical Science (IMS) magazine. I started off as a writer/editor and spent the final year of my PhD as the Editor-in-Chief. This experience in editing and writing, combined with my medical and research knowledge, made me a great fit for my current non-academic career.

Current Position: I am currently a Medical Editor and conversational UX Designer at an artificial intelligence (AI) tech startup called conversationHealth. Our company works with leading pharmaceutical companies to create medical information chatbots. These AI chatbots are designed for doctors, pharmacists, or patients, to provide concise and accurate info on pharmaceuticals and medical conditions.

In my role, I am involved in the creation and design of the conversations for the online chatbots. I am also currently developing a voice bot to be used on Google Assistant. This voice bot will converse with doctors, allowing them to ask questions about specific pharma products such as “What is the dose of this drug?” or “What should I know about drug interactions?”. Both the online and voice chatbots aim to bridge the gap between the mass of medical information available and the doctors/patients who need this knowledge.

Scholarships/Awards:

During my PhD, I was the proud recipient of the Novo Nordisk BBDC Studentship, the Cleghorn Fellowship in Schizophrenia Research, and the CAMH Discovery Studentship, which combined to provide full funding throughout my graduate degree.

I also had the opportunity to present my research at over 15 conferences, in part due to being awarded the Banting and Best Travel Award, the Schizophrenia International Research Society Travel Award, and the SGS Conference Grant. In addition, I was the recipient of the Japanese Neuroscience Society Travel Award, which provided full funding for me to present my PhD research in at the Japanese Neuroscience Society in Niigata, Japan.

Alum of Chantel Kowalchuk, Institute of Medical Science