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Dr. Alasdair Barr

Investigator, BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services Research Institute

Primary research areas

  • Psychosis
  • Schizophrenia
  • Cannabis
  • Neuropharmacology
  • Preclinical research

About Alasdair M. Barr, Ph.D.

  • Investigator, BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services Research Institute
  • Investigator, BC Children's Hospital Research Institute
  • Associate Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of British Columbia
  • Member, David Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health

Over the course of his career, Dr. Barr has studied psychosis in three different forms, including schizophrenia, psychosis induced by psychostimulants (e.g., methamphetamine) and the post-operative delirium that occurs following cardiac surgery. 

Originally from the United Kingdom, Dr. Barr moved to Vancouver to complete his Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. He followed with postdoctoral research on developmental neurobiology and molecular psychopharmacology at the Scripps Research Institute and at UC San Diego in Southern California. Currently, he is a tenured associate professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics at UBC. 

Some of his recent projects include a role as co-principal investigator (with Dr. Diane Fredrikson from UBC’s Department of Psychiatry) in a pharmaceutical-sponsored phase two drug trial testing a new medication that may improve cognition in persons living with schizophrenia. 

“This represents one of the greatest unmet needs in the treatment of psychosis,” Dr. Barr says. “There have been few new drugs to treat schizophrenia for the past several decades, and none exist to improve cognitive function.” He says results of the first phase two study, published in Lancet Psychiatry publication, appear “extremely promising.”

Additional work related to psychosis includes industry-sponsored drug development projects in collaboration with local biotechnology companies. In 2020, these included ongoing studies to develop new ways to increase the amount of the cannabis compound cannabidiol that reaches the brain. The compound has been shown to have antipsychotic effects. 

Another industry-sponsored study, approved in 2020, will look at the potential of psilocybin – the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms” – to cause weight loss in persons experiencing obesity. “If the preclinical research is successful, psilocybin might represent a powerful new agent to improve metabolic health in patients who are being treated with antipsychotic drugs, with the potential additional benefits of having antidepressant effects at the same time,” Dr. Barr says. 

Current projects 

One of Dr. Alasdair Barr’s current projects is studying the side effects of anti-psychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia and other mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, depression and behavioural problems in youth. 

“People who take these drugs tend to develop a set of specific side effects,” Dr. Barr says. “We call this metabolic syndrome. It is a cluster of changes to metabolic health. And these put you at much greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.” 

Studies show that people living with schizophrenia live 20 years less on average than the general population, in large part because of the side-effects of these medications. 

“We’re trying to understand the physiology that underlies these side effects. For example, people who take these medications will gain weight. They’ll have higher glucose levels, their cholesterol goes up. If we can figure out what causes this, we can hopefully create new drugs that don’t cause this problem or find ways to prevent these side effects from occurring.”

Recent publications

See Dr. Alasdair Barr's publications on ORCID

Ramos-Miguel, A., Jones, A.A., Petyuk, V.A. et al. Proteomic identification of select protein variants of the SNARE interactome associated with cognitive reserve in a large community sample. Acta Neuropathol 141, 755–770 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00401-021-02282-7

Kristina M. Gicas, Alex Cheng, William J. Panenka, David D. Kim, Jade C. Yau, Ric M. Procyshyn, Jacob L. Stubbs, Andrea A. Jones, Simran Bains, Allen E. Thornton, Donna J. Lang, Alexandra T. Vertinsky, Alex Rauscher, William G. Honer, Alasdair M. Barr, Differential effects of cannabis exposure during early versus later adolescence on the expression of psychosis in homeless and precariously housed adults, Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, Volume 106, 2021, 110084, ISSN 0278-5846, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pnpbp.2020.110084

Eadie Lauren, Lo Lindsay A., Christiansen April, Brubacher Jeffrey R., Barr Alasdair M., Panenka William J., MacCallum Caroline A., Duration of Neurocognitive Impairment With Medical Cannabis Use: A Scoping Review, Frontiers in Psychiatry, Volume 12, 2021, 286, www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.638962, https://doi.org./10.3389/fpsyt.2021.638962

Boyda HN, Procyshyn RM, Tse L, Yuen JWY, Honer WG, Barr AM (2021) A comparison of the metabolic side-effects of the second-generation antipsychotic drugs risperidone and paliperidone in animal models. PLoS ONE 16(1): e0246211. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0246211

Jones, A., Gicas, K., Mostafavi, S., Woodward, M., Leonova, O., Vila-Rodriguez, F., Honer, W. (2021). Dynamic networks of psychotic symptoms in adults living in precarious housing or homelessness. Psychological Medicine, 1-11. doi:10.1017/S0033291720004444

Yuen JWY, Kim DD, Procyshyn RM, Panenka WJ, Honer WG, Barr AM. A Focused Review of the Metabolic Side-Effects of Clozapine. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2021;12:609240. Published 2021 Feb 25. doi:10.3389/fendo.2021.609240

David D. Kim, Alasdair M. Barr, S. Evelyn Stewart, Randall F. White, William G. Honer, Ric M. Procyshyn, Relationship between clozapine dose and severity of obsessive-compulsive symptoms, Medical Hypotheses, Volume 148, 2021, 110506, ISSN 0306-9877, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2021.110506 

Leising, Julie MD; Barr, Alasdair M. PhD; Procyshyn, Ric M. PharmD, PhD; Ainsworth, Nicholas J. MD; White, Randall F. MD, FRCPC; Honer, William MD, FRCPC; Vila-Rodriguez, Fidel MD, PhD, FRCPC High-Dose Fluvoxamine Augmentation to Clozapine in Treatment-Resistant Psychosis, Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology: 3/4 2021 - Volume 41 - Issue 2 - p 186-190 doi: 10.1097/JCP.0000000000001342 

Stubbs JL, Thornton AE, Gicas KM, et al. Characterizing Traumatic Brain Injury and Its Association with Losing Stable Housing in a Community-based Sample: Caractérisation d’une lésion cérébrale traumatique et de son association avec la perte d’un logement stable dans un échantillon communautaire. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. March 2021. doi:10.1177/07067437211000665 

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