2018 Women’s Health Research Institute Catalyst Grant Recipients

The Women’s Health Research Institute (WHRI) is very pleased to congratulate the recipients of the 2018 Women’s Health Research Institute Catalyst Grants. This competition was funded thanks to the dedicated support of the BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre Foundation.

This grant competition provides support for pilot studies in women’s and newborn’s health, which aim to generate preliminary data; test new approaches, methodologies or tools; bring new teams together; and/or support new research in women’s and newborn’s health from established researchers.

Recipient of the Auxiliary to BC Women’s Catalyst Grant

Dr. Pascal Lavoie, Division of Neonatology, Department of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia

Team: Pascal Lavoie (PI), Suzanne Vercauteren (Co-PI), Jefferson Terry (Co-PI), Soren Gantt (Co-I), Wendy Robinson (Co-I), Alexander Beristain (Co-I), Ruth Grunau (Co-I), Rajavel Elango (Co-I)

Project: BC Women’s Hospital Preemie BioBank

Summary: In Canada, 8% of infants are born premature, before 37 weeks of gestation (40,000 infants per year). These infants suffer increased medical complications at birth with life-long health consequences. Health research is essential to discover new treatments for these problems. Biobanks are crucial to provide researchers with biological materials (e.g. human cells and tissues) to model disease process and the effect of new treatments without imposing a health risk to patients. The purpose of this project is to consolidate the BC Women’s Hospital (BCWH) Preemie Biobank initiative, the first Biobank in Canada dedicated to the collection of biological cord blood and placental tissues for research related to preterm birth and health problems in premature babies. Our main objective is to seek parents’ opinions and involvement into directing the process and priorities of the Biobank. The results of this study will also provide guidance on how to improve the acquisition of high quality biological specimens for innovative research, from the perspective of health providers. In the long-term, we hope that this study will enhance our ability to positively impact the health of premature babies through discovery research.

Recipient of the 2018 WHRI Catalyst Grant

Dr. Cindy K. Barha, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Physical Therapy, University of British Columbia

Team: Cindy K. Barha (PI), Liisa Galea (Co-I), Teresa Liu-Ambrose (Co-I), Rachel Crockett (Co-I)

Project: Momnesia: Investigating the neural basis for reduced memory and executive functions across pregnancy

Summary: Over 80% of women complain of declines in cognition during pregnancy. The negative impact of these deficits on maternal quality of life is significant. Although not well-studied, objective measurements support the claims of subjective memory declines during pregnancy. Fewer studies have examined executive functions during pregnancy, the capacity to plan, organize, and monitor goal-oriented behaviours; however, evidence does support declines in this as well. Importantly, little is known about the mechanisms underlying these declines in memory and executive functions in humans. Therefore, the aim of the proposed study is to examine the role of activation in the two brain regions that subserve these two cognitive domains, the medial temporal lobe and prefrontal cortex, using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), a cost-effective, non-invasive alternative to neuroimaging that is safe for use during pregnancy. We will also look at how pregnancy-related hormones, sex of the baby, severity of nausea/vomiting during pregnancy, and level of physical activity are involved in these cognitive deficits. We will recruit 15 women pregnant for the first time and 15 age- and education-matched non-pregnant women. All women will be assessed at 3 time points: for pregnant women at 12, 24, and 37 weeks since last menstrual period, and for control women at 3-month intervals. The resulting data will greatly aid in our understanding of how pregnancy affects the brain of women and has the potential to improve the mental health of women in British Columbia and beyond to ensure each child and mother thrives.

Recipient of the 2018 WHRI Catalyst Grant

Dr. Laura Schummers, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Family Practice, University of British Columbia

Team: Laura Schummers (PI), Wendy Norman (Co-I), Kim McGrail (Co-I), Elizabeth Darling (Co-I), Sheila Dunn (Co-I), Glenys Webster (Principal Knowledge User)

Project: Catalyst to facilitate Access to Mifepristone and Outcomes Study (CAMOS)

Summary:

Background: One in three Canadian women have at least one abortion. Until 2017, 96% of abortions were performed surgically in fewer than 100 (primarily urban) facilities. Access to abortion services was inequitable; including significant urban-rural disparities. The medical abortion drug mifepristone became available in Canada in January 2017. Mifepristone can be provided in primary care and is a safe, effective alternative to surgical abortion. Thus, mifepristone could improve abortion access and reduce inequities considerably. However, the extent to which mifepristone introduction has impacted abortion service access, abortion related adverse events, and health system costs, is not known. Health system leaders have identified an urgent need to understand the implications of this major abortion policy change.

Research Question: What was the distribution of abortion access, abortion-related adverse events, and abortion costs in BC and ON before the introduction of mifepristone medical abortion?

Method: Our research team aims to conduct a population-based cohort study among all patients undergoing abortion in British Columbia and Ontario from January 2012-December 2019 using administrative health data (e.g., billing codes; hospital discharge records; prescriptions). This Catalyst Grant will support crucial pilot work to 1) determine similarities and differences in data sources to ensure cross-province consistency for abortion and outcome measures, and 2) describe abortion usage, abortion access, abortion-related adverse event rates, and abortion service costs in BC and ON before the introduction of mifepristone medical abortion.

Impact: This Catalyst Grant will facilitate the first comprehensive examination of Canadian abortion services following mifepristone introduction and will provide critical information for health system leaders to evaluate recent abortion policy changes.

Member Spotlight: Congratulations to Dr. Laura Schummers!

This month our spotlight is on Laura Schummers, a Postdoctoral Fellow working with the Contraception and Abortion Research Team (CART-GRAC)! Laura was recently awarded a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) Research Trainee Fellowship for her project “Mifepristone outcomes study: Examining abortion access, outcomes, and costs following the introduction of mifepristone”, as well as a Health Systems Impact Fellowship co-funded by CIHR and the BC Ministry of Health for her work “Population-based epidemiological analysis to evaluate and inform reproductive health policies in British Columbia.”

Laura’s work uses epidemiological and health services research methods to better understand the causes and predictors of reproductive, maternal, and infant pregnancy outcomes. Her doctoral work looked at population-level administrative health data to examine the relationship between maternal age, pregnancy spacing, and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Findings from her study of  adverse pregnancy outcomes and maternal age detail risks for different maternal ages, and suggest that risks for both mother and baby increase gradually with increasing maternal age, rather than abruptly increasing at specific ages (such as age 35 or 40). Her doctoral work recently made waves across the media, suggesting that waiting less than a year between pregnancies increases risk for infants, regardless of maternal age, and increases risks for mothers for those age 35 or older. These findings provide useful tools for clinical counselling and family planning, and can help reassure older women who may also be weighing age-related risks that it is worth spacing pregnancies out 1-2 years.

Her postdoctoral work will look at the extent to which introduction of the medical abortion drug Mifepristone improved abortion access in Canada, as well as any other outcomes of this policy change. Laura will look at administrative health data to see how access was impacted, and whether or not there are new challenges to address, such as patient safety or health systems costs.

The fellowship places Laura in a unique position, as she has is co-located within the BC Ministry of Health in the Public Health Services division, Perinatal Services BC, and BC Women’s Hospital, along with her academic site in Women’s Health Research Institute. This means that the policy organizations responsible for implementing the change are working with her to evaluate their impact, and that she can try to ensure her research findings are easily interpretable for a policy audience.

Congratulations, Laura!

REFERENCES

Laura Schummers, S., Jennifer A. Hutcheon, P., Sonia Hernandez-Diaz, D., & al, e. (2018). Association of Short Interpregnancy Interval With Pregnancy Outcomes According to Maternal Age. JAMA Internal Medicine.

Schummers, L., Hutcheon, J. A., Hacker, M. R., VanderWeele, T. J., Williams, P. L., McElrath, T. F., et al. (2018). Absolute Risks of Obstetric Outcomes Risks by Maternal Age at First Birth: A Population-based Cohort. Epidemiology, 379-387.

BC CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL BIOBANK – COLLECTION OF MATERNAL SAMPLES & CLINICAL DATA FOR FUTURE RESEARCH

Principal Investigator: Dr. Suzanne Vercauteren

The BC Children’s Hospital Biobank collects, processes and stores samples and clinical data from women and babies to create a bank (or library) of samples. These samples can be used in future research to better understand the causes of diseases in women and families, with the ultimate goal of improving treatment and preventing diseases.

Primary Contact: Ashton Ellis, Research Coordinator, 604-875-2000 ext. 7841

About the study: Doctors and scientists at BC Women’s Hospital and BC Children’s Hospital have created the BC Children’s Hospital BioBank (BCCHB). The BCCHB collects, processes and stores samples and clinical data from women and babies to create a bank (or library) of samples. These samples can be used in future research to better understand the causes of diseases in women and families, with the ultimate goal of improving treatment and preventing diseases. The BioBank would like to invite you to donate blood, leftover blood, umbilical cord blood, and placenta to our BioBank. The majority of these samples are typically discarded at the time of birth, unless needed for clinical purposes or personal reasons. No additional time will be required on your behalf, aside from signing the consent form.

Why is this research important? Research carried out on your samples may help our understanding in pregnancy including complications related to pregnancy and how this affects the mother and babies with the ultimate goal to develop new treatments option. By agreeing to participate in the BioBank, you can contribute to many different studies while just signing one consent form.

Study status: Recruiting

Who can participate: We are currently and actively recruiting all women who plan to deliver at BC Women’s Hospital to participate. You are still eligible to participate in the BioBank if you are signed up for Canadian Blood Services’ Public Cord Blood Banking program.

Patient information form

Consent form

Dr. Jerilynn Prior: The ABCs of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis, a disease which deteriorates bone tissue and increases the risk for fractures, affects approximately 2 million Canadians (Osteoporosis Canada). November is Osteoporosis Awareness month, a time to raise awareness and discuss prevention – but often popular conversation doesn’t include young women and the steps they can take to decrease their risk.

Dr. Jerilynn C Prior is an endocrinologist who authored the ABCs of Osteoporosis Prevention for Teenaged Women to help bridge this gap and raise awareness among healthcare providers, young women, and their caregivers about the unique steps they can take for better life-long bone health.


The original ABCs of Osteoporosis Prevention came about when Dr. Prior was invited to speak with Bill Good on CKNW. She describes her rainy walk to the station and how she began trying to put her advice into an easy-to-follow alphabetical format.

For teenaged women, the ABCs begin with ‘A’ for Active, followed by ‘B’ for Brawny.

“Brawny fits because you need normal muscle for bone to be normal, and it’s also an opportunity to talk about keeping a steady, normal weight. If you have to lose weight, lose it very slowly – otherwise you will lose bone.”

Next are ‘C’ for Calcium, ‘D’ for Vitamin D and ‘E’ for Easygoing which Dr. Prior emphasizes as a very important step.

“I think I was one of the first people to identify that those…who we were seeing with osteoporosis were high-strung, or on-edge, or anxious, or insecure – you can use all kinds of different terms,” she says. “There are connections we now know of between the sympathetic nervous system and links between depression and bone loss. Anything that raises cortisol affects your bones.”

Similarly important is ‘F’ for bone formation, because most medications and supplements “work to prevent bone loss, but don’t work to increase new bone,” she explains. And, like calcium and vitamin D, hormones are also a critical component for bone formation.

“Basically, for adolescent men it’s important that their testosterone rises into normal male range. For women, it’s important they get their cycles at the normal time each month and develop normal ovulation and progesterone,” she says. “When it comes to the ‘F’ – formation and fertility – one instruction for adolescents is to avoid the birth control pill if at all possible.”

Population-based Canada-wide data from the Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study (CaMos) in adolescent women found that the “use of combined hormonal contraception before age 19 or 20 appears to interfere with gaining toward peak bone mass in the hip region. Furthermore a meta-analysis of studies of spinal bone change by use of combined hormonal contraception or not shows that those using the Pill are significantly losing bone although this data is so far only published as an abstract.”

“I now have pretty strong data about the role of progesterone in bone formation, [although] it is still controversial. It has taken me twenty five years of gathering and interpreting [data] and doing studies that would show it. These data were recently published in an open-access Climacteric review.”

Finally, ‘G’ and ‘H’ are combined for Good Habits. That is, regular sleep, avoiding excessive alcohol and any tobacco, and, importantly, having a good diet. Data derived through principle components analysis of diet variables among those who completed a food-frequency questionnaire in the CaMos  cohort found that menopausal women who were predominantly on a nutrient-dense diet had fewer new fractures over time than menopausal women on a more calorie-dense or Western-type diet.

The ABCs of Osteoporosis Prevention have been adapted by Dr. Prior for premenopausal women, menopausal women with osteoporosis, midlife women, healthy menopausal women, men who have prostate cancer who are on androgen-ablation therapy, and now, adolescent women. With a CIHR grant the adolescent and premenopausal ABCs are being disseminated through both English and French animated videos. The print materials for all of these are available through the CeMCOR website. Additionally, Dr. Prior is engaging with both the public and healthcare professionals to bring this important information to light through workshops and public talks.

In future, Dr. Prior hopes to adapt the ABCs for adolescent and older men, too.

Watch the ABCs of Osteoporosis Prevention for Teenaged Women here.

Watch the ABCs of Osteoporosis Prevention for Premenopausal Women here.


Jerilynn C. Prior BA, MD, FRCPC is a Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of British Columbia working on women’s health. She studies menstrual cycles and the effects of ovulation and its disturbances on women’s later life osteoporotic fracture, heart attack and breast cancer risks. She is British Columbia Centre Director of the Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study (CaMos, www.camos.org), a 20-year prospective 9-centre population-based bone and general health study; she is also the Scientific Director and Founder of the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research (www.cemcor.ca ).

References
J. C. Prior. (2018) Progesterone for treatment of symptomatic menopausal women. Climacteric 21:4, pages 358-365.

Research spotlight: CervixCheck

Cervical cancer screening using the pap test remains critical for this preventable disease. In BC, provincial screening rates have remained the same over the last decade where approximately 30% of the population are under or never screened. Despite this, few interventions have been implemented to increase screening, where rates are lowest among priority populations who face barriers to clinic-based screening.

CervixCheck is a website developed by the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and the BC Cancer Cervix Screening Program. Using CervixCheck, women who are overdue for cervical cancer screening can order a kit to perform cervical cancer screening at home. This is a pilot research project where women will be recruited from collaborating family medical clinics in Surrey, an urban centre with some of the lowest regional screening rates in the province and large South Asian population.

CervixCheck was modelled off of the successful BCCDC “virtual clinic” for sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBI) called GetCheckedOnline.com (GCO), using existing code-base, infrastructure and safeguards. Evaluations of GCO have demonstrated:

  • high diagnosis rates;
  • high satisfaction because of the privacy and convenience of the online service;
  • users reported barriers to accessing testing prior to the service, compared to clinic clients;
  • despite common assumptions GCO users were not more likely to be youth or have higher digital literacy;
  • the service reached previously untested individuals.

Online services for self-collection at home, and clinician-collected screening for HPV testing are available commercially in Canada, however CervixCheck will be the first service of its kind administered in the publicly funded health system. To verify our assumptions in the development stages of the project, we administered a digital health survey to assess South Asian womens’ willingness to use the service and digital literacy. Women were recruited from the family practice clinics where CervixCheck will be piloted, and included 51 women between 30-65 years. Among the findings from this survey we found that

  • 30% of women reported being under/never-screened
  • Over 86% of women self-rated their general Internet skills as average or better
  • 80% of women responded somewhat likely to very likely to participate in CervixCheck
  • 70% of women responded somewhat likely to very likely to collecting their own vaginal specimen
  • Over 90% of women feel comfortable reading and understanding English

CervixCheck is planning to launch in January 2019 and will be available in English for the pilot, however the print and instructional materials associated with the screening project will also be offered in Punjabi. The lessons from this pilot project will be used to inform possible implementation within the BC Cervix Screening Program, as well as other under-screened populations, particularly in Northern BC where our team had engaged stakeholders and secured funding for an additional pilot.

Member Spotlight: Dr. Paula Gordon

Last month Minister of Health Adrian Dix announced that BC would become the first province to share breast density results with all women and their healthcare providers with their mammography screening. Dr. Paula Gordon, Medical Director of the Sadie Diamond Breast Program at BC Women’s Hospital, along with the organization Dense Breasts Canada, was instrumental in advocating for this policy change.

In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness month, we spoke to Dr. Gordon about this change and its impact on women throughout the province.

 

  1. What was your involvement in the push toward communicating breast density results in BC?

I’m a volunteer advisor to Dense Breasts Canada, a non-profit group of breast cancer survivors and medical professionals striving to educate women and physicians about the risks associated with having dense breasts.

  1. How is breast density related to breast health?

It’s normal and common to have dense breasts. But having dense breast tissue puts a woman at increased risk for getting breast cancer. Having the highest category of breast density is a greater risk factor than having a mother or sister with breast cancer. And when a woman’s breast tissue is dense, it makes it harder to see a cancer on a mammogram. Cancers and normal dense tissue both appear white on a mammogram, so looking for a cancer “is like looking for a snow ball in a snowstorm.” Women with fatty breasts are at lower risk AND it’s easier to see cancer in a fatty breast.

  1. Why is it important that women are informed about their breast density?

Mammograms miss 50% of cancers in women with dense tissue. So, women with dense breasts need to know that they can’t have the same trust in the accuracy of their mammogram, than women can if they have fatty breasts. They should still have mammograms, but should also do breast self-examination, and should discuss the option of additional screening with ultrasound, with their family doctor. BC Cancer will initiate a program to educate physicians about dense breasts in 2019.

  1. How will this decision impact women in BC?

Hopefully, women who learn that they have dense breasts will be in a position to make informed decisions about their health. ALL women would ideally improve their lifestyle to reduce their risk of getting breast cancer.

Changes include:

  • Maintaining a healthy body weight, especially after menopause
  • Doing regular, moderately-intense exercise
  • Reducing the use of hormone therapy after menopause (use the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time, avoiding oral estrogen, and balancing the risks with the benefits to their quality of life
  • Minimizing their alcohol consumption: there’s a linear relationship between alcohol use and breast cancer risk. So enjoy, but in moderation
  • Have routine screening mammography.

Women with dense breasts should discuss the option for supplemental screening with their family physician. Currently, there is evidence to show that ultrasound finds an additional 3-4 cancers per thousand women. But like any screening test (like mammograms and pap smears) ultrasound can create false alarms, which can necessitate additional testing to determine whether cancer is present, or not. But when ultrasound finds these cancers, they are usually small, and not yet spread to lymph nodes. So these women are good candidates for less aggressive surgery and often do not require chemotherapy. When not found early, women are more likely to need mastectomies and chemotherapy.


Read more about the announcement here.

Meet the Researcher: Dr. Cheryl Krasnick Warsh

Dr. Cheryl Krasnick Warsh, FRSC is a historian at Vancouver Island University, who also served as Executive Director of the Western Association of Women’s Historians, and Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Bulletin of Medical History. She presently is co-editor of the international journal Gender and History. Her work focuses on the history of healthcare and health research, and within those fields, the inequalities women have faced in accessing care and inclusion within the healthcare system.

Dr. Warsh started her career as a historian of healthcare nearly 35 years ago.  Studying this history, she explains, adds greater dimension and context to our current healthcare concerns and advances in medicine. The history of gender inequalities in the healthcare system is rich with examples of women’s concerns being treated as psychological, related purely to their reproductive systems, or simply ignored.

“It goes right back to Greek medicine and the first physicians, Galen and Hippocrates,” says Dr. Warsh. “Galen postulated that the centre of a woman’s life was the womb, and the woman was built up around it. Women’s reproductive organs really guided everything about her health from puberty to menopause and beyond.”

She describes that when doctors had no clear cut answer for the cause of a woman’s ailment, they defaulted to the ‘theory of the wandering womb’. If a woman was suffering from a migraine, for instance, they might put sweet smelling herbs near her pelvis and garlic and other bad smelling things near her head to “entice her womb from her head and put it back where it belongs.”

This association between a woman’s wellbeing and her reproductive organs carried on well into the 20th century. Dr. Warsh’s first research was on the London Psychiatric Hospital  during the last decades of the 19th century, where asylum superintendent Richard Maurice Bucke had a theory that “much of a woman’s mental illness related to her ovaries. If she couldn’t be treated, then maybe they needed to be taken out.”

Over the past hundred years or so, the fate of women’s healthcare and health research largely shifted toward the assumption that their care is interchangeable with men’s. She explains that medical science primarily experimented on men, and women’s unique concerns have been downplayed.

“Women were expected from a young age to take care of reproductive health in ways that may not be healthy,” she says. “When the first birth control pill was tested through the FDA in the late 1950s the FDA didn’t yet have scientists there. They had a woman employee whom they sent to get a Master’s degree in science so that she would be ‘qualified’ to test the birth control pill. The early pill had severe side effects.”

These are only a few examples of the long history of inequalities in healthcare, and understanding where we came from can be helpful for understanding where our system stands today.

“When you do a little bit of history on anything, you find out a lot more than you expected,” says Dr. Warsh.


Read more about Dr. Warsh here.

Research Spotlight: The TMIST Trial

The Tomosynthesis Mammographic Imaging Screening Trial (TMIST) is a randomized, breast cancer screening trial that will help researchers learn about the best ways to find breast cancer in women who have no symptoms.

It compares two approved types of digital mammography: standard digital mammography (2-D) with a newer technology called tomosynthesis mammography (3-D). 2-D mammography takes pictures from two angles of the breast to create a flat image. 3-D mammography images are taken from multiple angles around the breast and then reconstructed into a 3-D-like image.

The goal of breast cancer screening is to find breast cancer early when it may be easier to treat. The TMIST trial aims to find out whether the newer technology is more effective than conventional 2-D mammography at reducing life-threatening (advanced) breast cancers.

The TMIST Lead-In study, led by Dr. Paula Gordon at the Breast Health Centre at C&W and Dr. Linda Warren at X-Ray 505, is now in its follow up stages with one-third of the 306 study participants completing their final screen to date. This Lead-In study has been funded by The Diamond Family.

Another important aspect of the trial is to build a tissue bank for future research. All women who joined the trial have been asked to submit tissue samples, such as blood and cheek swabs.  Researchers hope that the information from these tissue samples will help decide the best ways to screen for breast cancer in the future by taking a person’s genetics and other personal risk factors into account. Currently we have collected bio-specimens from approximately 25% of the participants.

With the success of the Lead-In study, we are nearly ready to begin recruitment on the main TMIST study. Women ages 45 to 74 who are planning to get a routine screening mammogram are eligible for this trial. The main study will be funded by the NIH.

If you would like to participate, or would like further information on participating, please contact the research team at TMIST@cw.bc.ca

Dr. Gina Ogilvie is featured in the news!

Dr. Gina Ogilvie is the lead study author on a publication in the Canadian Medical Association Journal about the sexual health practices of teen girls after the introduction of the HPV vaccine in BC public schools. The publication has been featured in the Vancouver Sun, Newsweek, and more!

The study found that teen girls’ sexual behaviour generally stayed the same or became less risky after HPV vaccines were introduced into BC public schools.

Read the UBC press release here.

Read the full publication in the Canadian Medical Association Journal here.

News publications:

CBC

The Vancouver Sun

Science Daily

Newsweek

The Abbotsford News

Newstral

Yahoo News

Meet the Researcher: Catriona Hippman

In honour of World Mental Health Day we talked to Catriona Hippman, a WHRI researcher, genetic counselor, and Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. Check out this Q&A to learn more about psychiatric genetic counselling, and her research on reproductive mental health!

Catriona Hippman headshotWhat is psychiatric genetic counselling, and what does a counsellor in this field do?

Genetic counselling is a growing field, and is defined as “the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease.” Psychiatric genetic counselling entails helping people make personal meaning of the research that has been conducted in the area of psychiatric illness. People might see a psychiatric genetic counsellor if they have a family member with a mental illness (such as a child or parent), and they want to understand more about how they can help to protect their child’s – and their own – mental health. Someone who has a mental illness themselves might see a genetic counsellor to discuss what’s known about the causes of mental illness and what has contributed to their experience of mental illness. Psychiatric genetic counsellors can also talk to women and their partners about how to protect their mental health during and after pregnancy, discuss options in terms of how to manage mental health during pregnancy and the postpartum period, and answer questions about chances for their child to develop a mental illness. An important part of a psychiatric genetic counsellor’s role – regardless of the reason for an appointment – is to address feelings of guilt or shame that often impact families affected by mental illness.

How do genetics play a role in mental health?

While we know that genetic factors play a part in developing a mental illness, we also know that genetic factors alone do not cause mental illness. Anyone who would like to understand more about the causes of mental illness and the role genetics plays in mental health can contact the psychiatric genetic counselling specialty clinic at BC Women’s Hospital – the Adapt clinic: http://www.bcmhsus.ca/our-services/genetic-counselling-(the-adapt-clinic).

What drew you to focus your research on reproductive mental health?

Like many, I was drawn to work in an area that is very personally relevant. Mental illness has ravaged the lives of many of my closest friends. I have seen repeatedly how much suffering is caused by mental illness, and – fortunately – how much people can thrive when they receive support for their mental health. As a feminist, I am particularly passionate about supporting women to care for their mental health at a time when they are most vulnerable – during and after pregnancy.

What impact do you hope to make with your research?

My vision is for all women to feel empowered to care for their mental health, and my mission is to improve women’s reproductive mental health through translational research.

What is the coolest thing about the work you do?

I cherish the connections that I make with women who participate in my research, and I deeply value hearing their stories and working with them to make meaning of their experiences. It is a privilege that women tell me about some of the most personal and private aspects of their lives, and I see it as my responsibility to promote change on a large scale, in whatever way I can, through my research.


Learn more about World Mental Health Day 2018 here.