Dr. Jennifer Love: Fighting the gender pay-gap at UBC

This year WHRI was excited to present Dr. Jennifer Love as a keynote speaker on the topic of Women in Academia. Dr. Jennifer Love was recently reappointed for the 2018-2020 term as Senior Advisor to the Provost on Women Faculty at the University of British Columbia, a role which she has filled since July 1, 2016.

In her position she led the creation of a “Faculty Data Dashboard” – a tool which compiles faculty data to compare salary, parental leave, tenure track, and other factors by gender to help understand discrepancies between male and female faculty members.  The dashboard is the result of collaboration between Dr. Love and Human Resources and Planning and Institutional Research (PAIR) at UBC, and will be instrumental in identifying areas to promote greater equality.

In addition to the dashboard, Dr. Love will be tackling the issue of the gender pay-gap at UBC as chair of the pay equity committee. She will also be working alongside the Faculty Association to develop programming to mentor and sponsor women faculty.

Meet the researcher: Dr. Nichole Fairbrother

Dr. Nichole Fairbrother holding a koala bear

What is your role?

I am an assistant professor in the UBC Department of Psychiatry, located in Victoria BC with the UBC Island Medical Program.

What led you to a career in research?

The year after high school I took a career interests test and my strongest (by far) score was for research psychologist. I find the idea of learning something completely new for the world, no matter how small, very thrilling. Following the birth of my first child, I developed a passion for healthy reproduction and early parenting. I am very grateful to be working in the field of maternal mental health.

Can you summarize your research in one sentence?

I study anxiety disorders in women during pregnancy and the first year postpartum.

Why is your research important?

As many as 20% of all pregnant women and new mothers report symptoms meeting criteria for one or more anxiety disorders. When I began in this area, very little research had been conducted, despite the fact that anxiety disorders can be very distressing and impairing for the women who experience them, and can have negative consequences for the developing fetus and for infants.

Who or what inspires you?

I am inspired by caring and compassion. My primary motivator in life is the alleviation of emotional distress in others.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?

Research does not happen quickly.

What is the coolest about the work you do?

I study new mothers’ unwanted, intrusive thoughts of infant-related harm. This is a really cool topic.

When you’re not working you can be found  _____.

Riding my bike, playing with my children, doing aerial hoop.

BC Women’s Hospital selected as Canadian site of an American research trial

The Women’s Health Research Institute (WHRI) is excited to announce that BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre (BCWH) has been selected as one of four Canadian sites to participate in a large-scale NIH-funded study entitled “Pharmacokinetics and Safety of Commonly Used Drugs in Lactating Women and Breastfed Infants”. The study is being conducted by the Pediatric Trials Network (PTN), and is being led by Dr. Kevin Watt and the Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI).

Many drugs are prescribed to women during lactation based off of a historical absence of observed adverse effects on the newborn. Although most of these medications are likely safe for use during breastfeeding and are often indicated for maternal health reasons, there has been no systemic evaluation of the pharmacokinetics associated with these drugs or its excretion into breastmilk.

To bridge this knowledge gap, researchers will assess the transfer of drugs from mother to child via breastmilk by monitoring drug levels in the mother’s blood, breastmilk, and the child’s blood.  The study will begin with the testing of ten commonly used medications including those used for high blood pressure, infections and depression.  The study will continue to include other medications as long as funding continues.

Dr. Wee-Shian Chan, Site PI, explains that BCWH is in a unique position to contribute and recruit pregnant and breastfeeding patients for this study because of its provincial role in managing high-risk pregnancies and the high rates of breastfeeding at BCWH.

This study will significantly change how we counsel and prescribe medications to breastfeeding patients to ensure best outcomes for both mother and child.

C&W Medical Staff Association Recognition Award recipients announced!

Congratulations to the recipients of the inaugural C&W Medical Staff Association (MSA) Recognition Awards! The awards are intended to give recognition to C&W MSA members who make an outstanding contribution to the delivery of healthcare, training, and research on a local, provincial, and global scale.

WHRI is proud to announce that seven of its members were recognized in the C&W MSA awards, in the following categories:

  • Dr. Nicole Todd: Rookie of the Year
  • Dr. Anton Chau: Mentor/Educator of the Year
  • Dr. Wee-Shian Chan: Leadership Recognition Award
  • Dr. Paul Yong: Research Recognition Award
  • Dr. Ron Abrahams: Indigenous Health and Outreach Advocate
  • Dr. Neora Pick: Indigenous Health and Outreach Advocate
  • Dr. Gina Ogilvie: President’s Award


Dr. Joelle LeMoult is a MSFHR 2018 Scholar Award recipient!

Congratulations to Dr. Joelle LeMoult, a recipient of the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research 2018 Scholar Award for her project Predicting Depressive Symptoms During the Transition to High School.

Dr. LeMoult’s research will focus on the transition period adolescents face in their first year of high school – a period during which 11.5% of adolescents experience a depressive episode. She seeks to find the predictors of depression for this group of adolescents, as well as ways to mitigate the risks.

Read the full announcement here.

Preterm cord blood samples available for research

A partnership between BC Children’s Hospital BioBank (BCCH BioBank), BC Women’s Hospital leadership, and Dr. Pascal Lavoie of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit has resulted in optimized cord blood collection from premature babies (<33 weeks) for biobanking.

If you are interested in using cord blood for your research contact the BCCH BioBank (biobank@cw.bc.ca) for access.

Dr. Gina Ogilvie wins YWCA’s 2018 Women of Distinction Award!

Picture of Dr Ogilvie with her awardOn June 7th Dr. Gina Ogilvie, Senior Advisor of Research at BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre and WHRI’s Assistant Director, was given the YWCA 2018 Women of Distinction Award in the category of Research and the Sciences.

A huge congratulations to Dr. Ogilvie for this achievement, and for continuing to inspire us with her hard work toward the eradication of cervical cancer.

An interview with Dr. Melanie Murray, MSFHR 2018 Health Professional-Investigator Award recipient

Dr. Melanie Murray is one of this year’s MSFHR Health Professional-Investigator Award recipients. Her study, Individual disposition and mHealth: Personalized care to improve outcomes, is looking at dispositional traits that might identify which patients are more likely to benefit from antiretroviral adherence support provided by the WelTel program.

How did you become interested in the WelTel intervention?

At Oak Tree Clinic approximately a third of our patients experience barriers to accessing care, to being able to take their antiretrovirals, and to being well. A lot of those barriers focus around the social determinants of health, and so in looking for ways to engage our patients I started talking with Dr. Richard Lester who designed the WelTel intervention. He did a WelTel study in Kenya which was effective there, and he wanted to bring it out of Africa and try it here to see what we could do to improve care for our patients. We started with a pilot study looking at feasibility here at Oak Tree Clinic, and then did a second study with some of our most vulnerable patients to see if WelTel works. The study found that WelTel does work – especially for those who use it – and so that led to the current question which is ‘How do we know ahead of time who might use the program and who might benefit most from it?’

What inspired you to consider personalizing antiretroviral adherence support in persons living with HIV?

It was the results from our second study that show that WelTel works for those who actively engage with the program.  When we talked to health care providers at the clinic and those who are directly interacting with participants of the study there was really nothing obvious about an individual that would give us a hint as to whether the WelTel program was going to work for them. But this finding led us to thinking that although we think this program is great it is not for everyone – and everyone who needs support should have the type of support that is suited to their needs.

Why did you choose to focus on dispositional traits?

When we looked at the results of our effectiveness study (the WelTel Oak Tree study) we found that people who responded to the text messages were more likely to take their antiretroviral and suppress their HIV viral loads.  Then we looked at the demographic information we have about participants to see if there was a clear type of person who responded or didn’t –and there wasn’t. So then we considered that some people just prefer to text, and it could be more about disposition – whether someone is the type of person who likes to communicate that way – and that whether an adherence support works is just about what works for them as an individual. My colleagues Patrick Hill and Grant Edmonds look at big population studies in the US looking at personality and sense of purpose and health outcomes. There are short, easy questionnaires that can be done and tell a lot about a person and what programs might be suited to them, and so we thought perhaps this is a way we could look at the disposition of a person and see if that disposition would give us information about whether they would participate in and use this type of program.

The MSFHR Health Professional-Investigator Research Award is focused on implementation and using research to improve patient outcomes. How do you intend to mobilize the results of your study?

We would like to be able to roll out WelTel clinically to all of our patients who would benefit from the program.  However, resources are limited and it would be nice to have a quick and easy way to determine if the WelTel program would be the right fit for an individual, so as to offer the program to those most likely to benefit from it. In addition, we aim to go back to those individuals for whom text messaging isn’t really a fit and see if we can come up with other programs or strategies for engaging them in their care.

How do you think that these findings will benefit patients?

A lot of the issues that prevent individuals from taking antiretrovirals are the social determinants of health.  Housing, stable food sources, or physical safety, for example, all stand in the way of adherence to medications because these things are of higher priority. If you don’t know where you’re going to get your next meal you’re hardly going to be worrying about taking pills, particularly if those pills require you to eat. What WelTel does is it enables participants to ask for help when a problem arises, rather than at their next clinical appointment which could be months away. It allows us to help deal with smaller problems as they arise, and before they become big crises. If we could potentially roll WelTel out clinically with those individuals most likely to use it, then we could help those persons to engage in care, be well, and address the social determinants of health that stand in the way of their being able to attain adherence to their HIV medications.

Dr. Murray and team have recently conducted Sharing Circles to receive input from Indigenous members of the community on the language and feasibility of their questionnaires, and has been fortunate to receive mentorship from Elders Valerie Nicholson and Sandy Lambert. This process is intended to ensure that survey questions and the WelTel program are culturally safe for the individuals receiving them, and to get feedback on how to make it better. In addition, Dr. Murray and her team are in the process of validating the questionnaires with the Indigenous community so that results of these surveys may be meaningful to the population being studied. .

Looking forward, if her team is awarded CIHR funding for the proposed study they will begin work to enrol approximately 300 participants in the next phase of the study, with a focus on enrolling participants from groups that struggle most often with adherence to antiretrovirals (including Youth, Women, and First Nations individuals). The study will be a partnership between Vancouver Native Health, the Portland Hotel Society, and Oak Tree Clinic.

An interview with Dr. Paul Yong, MSFHR 2018 Health Professional-Investigator Award recipient

Dr. Paul Yong received a MSFHR Health Professional-Investigator Award for his study,  Sexual pain in endometriosis: Role of somatic mutations, which looks at the role of gene mutations in endometriosis sexual pain. This research could help to influence the incorporation of gene mutation testing into clinical care for endometriosis to promote more individualized care.

When did you first become interested in the topic of endometriosis sexual pain?

When I joined Dr. Catherine Allaire and Dr. Christina Williams at the BC Women’s Centre for Pelvic Pain and Endometriosis, I realized that endometriosis-associated sexual pain was common, but we did not fully understand its causes or how best to treat it.  At the same time, I was working at the VGH Multidisciplinary Vulvodynia Program, which focuses on sexual pain associated with vulvodynia.  Both clinical experiences led me to reflect more on the pathophysiology of endometriosis sexual pain, and on how to approach it in a more systematic way.

What led you to study gene mutations as a means for addressing this pain?

This arose through a collaboration with the OVCARE team: I would particularly note the leadership and mentorship of Dr. David Huntsman, the partnership of Dr. Michael Anglesio and Dr. Blake Gilks (who are Co-PIs on our recent CIHR grant), the encouragement of Dr. Diane Miller, and the support of the Gynecologic Cancer Tissue Bank via Dr. Jessica Mcalpine.  We began biobanking specimens from our endometriosis surgeries, and we collectively became interested in deep endometriosis, a subtype that has invasive tumour-like qualities, yet is benign.  We wondered whether somatic driver mutations, which are present in cancers, could also be present in this subtype of endometriosis (and perhaps other subtypes as well).

Could you speak briefly about the novel techniques you are using to analyze samples?

Briefly, this involves isolating endometriosis cells from surgical samples (via micro- or macro-dissection), isolating DNA, and then performing next generation sequencing and bioinformatics analyses to identify somatic (non-inherited) mutations in the endometriosis cells.  This work is done with a local company, Contextual Genomics.   We are correlating these mutations with anatomic and clinical variables, and also with local protein expression through a collaboration with Dr. Mohamed Bedaiwy (Co-PI).

The MSFHR Health Professional-Investigator Research Award is focused on implementation and using research to improve patient outcomes. How do you intend to mobilize the results of your study?

In addition to traditional knowledge translation (publications and conference presentations), we are exploring new approaches to mobilize research results.  First, we have a Patient Research Advisory Board, which partners with the research team in the design, interpretation, and application of the research.  We also disseminate our research through a quarterly online newsletter for patients, as well as the annual Celebration of Hope at BC Women’s.  Furthermore, we have a new collaboration with a KT expert, Dr. Fuchsia Howard (Co-PI), who will lead qualitative studies to inform an online patient education tool for sexual pain in endometriosis.

How do you think that these findings will benefit patients?

If somatic driver mutations are associated with sexual pain in endometriosis, then we may be able to use drugs targeting cellular pathways associated with these mutations, in order to provide a non-hormonal treatment alternative for women with endometriosis.  Moreover, we envision that the study of somatic mutations in endometriosis may lead one day to a novel genomics-based classification for endometriosis, a condition that affects 10% of reproductive-aged women.

I would like to end by thanking and acknowledging our research coordinator, Heather Noga, and all our trainees, without whom this award would not have been possible.