Network logo
Skip to the menu.
Theme Hexagons
Current Focus:
News & Events Focus > News & Events

News & Events

Old Scona student will spend summer doing dyslexia research

Andy Ogle
The Edmonton Journal

Wednesday, May 21, 2021

EDMONTON - Sixteen-year-old Christopher Plewes has landed what he thinks is the perfect summer job. He gets to spend his summer researching dyslexia.

The question he is trying to answer is: Are the brains of children who have difficulty reading wired differently from the brains of children who have no problems reading?

Plewes graduates from Old Scona high school this summer and is enrolled in honours biochemistry at the University of Alberta. He is one of 183 high-school and university students to be awarded a summer job as a researcher under the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research.

The program places promising Grade 11, Grade 12 and university students with researchers at the U of A, University of Calgary and University of Lethbridge.

Plewes will report to work at the University of Alberta Hospital.

There, he will be supervised by Christian Beaulieu, who, along with other scientists, uses three powerful MRIs in a variety of research projects.

For Beaulieu, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, the dyslexia study is a bit of a departure from his major research focus.

An expert in advanced MRI techniques, he's worked mostly with MRIs in strokes, seeking ways to better diagnose strokes in the first few hours, when treatment is most effective, and to track how strokes evolve over time and how best to manage them.

The reading study actually began last summer, when Beaulieu did brain scans of 21 young volunteers with normal reading patterns. They'll be compared with scans from an equal number of nine-to12-year-old volunteers with reading problems that Beaulieu hopes to recruit this summer.

The project is part of a collaboration with the U of A Centre for Research on Literacy, which in turn is part of the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network.

With $14 million in funding over four years, The Network has brought more than 100 researchers across the country together to focus on the biological, environmental, social, economic and program factors underlying the development of language and literacy skills.

Dyslexia is the most common cause of learning difficulties for children and young people. The word comes from the Greek meaning "difficulty with words." Its cause is a mystery, though it's thought to have genetic roots because it runs in families.

Beaulieu hopes to replicate an earlier study done at Stanford University in California, where he did postdoctoral work.

That study of a small number of adults with reading problems found a correlation between small but noticeable changes in their brain's white matter -- the wiring -- and low reading scores.

Plewes already knows the ropes at the university's MRI research centre. It's the second year he has won a summer studentship. Last summer, he participated in another study using MRI scans.

Over the winter, he volunteered to help analyse data from the brain scans Beaulieu did last year, using the work towards an extended essay for one of his International Baccalureate courses.

His task, he says, will be to continue working on data analysis using some of the software in the lab. "I'm incredibly fortunate to be here," he says.

To which Beaulieu says, "He's being modest, he's a real computer whiz."

- - -


Do you have a child, aged nine to 12, who is having difficulty reading?

If so, Christian Beaulieu at the U of A's NMR research centre would like to hear from you. He can be reached at 492-0908.

He cautions that the purpose of this study is basic research, not diagnosis, and children should not have other confounding problems, such as brain injuries, illnesses or conditions that might affect their ability to read. Also, English should be their primary language.

More information can be found at the U of A Centre for Research on Literacy Web site at and the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network at

LAST MODIFIED: June 24 2004 12:51:09

Sharing the science, opening minds.