Inclusive Gender Indicators

The inclusion of transgender individuals in research is increasingly recognized as important for accurate data collection.  However, knowing the best practice for differentiating between biological sex and social gender is not always clear when creating surveys or in other situations where these identifiers are necessary.

A study out of The University of Western Ontario found that “knowledge of the sociodemographic characteristics, health needs, and social experiences of trans populations has been constrained by the lack of measures to identify trans persons in population surveys”.

The study tested several different surveys which asked research participants to identify their sex and gender with multidimensional measures, and provides suggestions for how to incorporate such questions to collect more accurate data.

Their “Multidimensional Sex/Gender Measure (MSGM)” offers the following questions to determine a participant’s biological sex and gender identity :

Fig 4. Multidimensional Sex/Gender Measure (MSGM).

To learn more about the study and MSGM, read the paper online here.


International Forum on Women’s Brain and Mental Health

By Liisa Galea

On December 12, 2017, the 1st International Forum on Women’s Brain and Mental Health was held in picturesque Lausanne, Switzerland.  It was organized by the Women’s Brain Project in collaboration with the Global Alliance for Women’s Brain Health and The Lancet Psychiatry.

The forum was held to highlight the susceptibility of women developing a number of brain disorders at higher rates than men. There is a distinct need for researchers and clinicians alike to understand health needs in people with these disorders may be distinctly different in  women versus men.

The forum brought together a number of experts to highlight that proper consideration of sex as a biological variable not being considered in clinical trials or basic research is a barrier to our complete understanding of the disease. The forum discussions and panels also considered the role of caregiver (usually women) and the effects this has on their health and the health of the family, as well as how machine learning and AI (Artificial Intelligence) can aid in understanding women’s brain health.

The four diverse panel discussions considered: Sex effects on the regulation of brain function and disease manifestation towards gender medicine in neuroscience; Psychosocial aspects of female caregivers’ brain and mental health, socio-economic gap and female caregivers’ burden; Sex and Gender in Clinical Trials for Brain and mental diseases: reconsidering the way we test drugs; and finally, Digital biomarkers and new technologies: New tools to support women’s brain health.

The two keynote speakers were by Khaliya and Lynn Posluns of the Women’s Brain Health Initiative (in Canada). Speakers and attendees from around the world gathered to discuss to issues on Women’s health from Malta, the United States, Norway, the UK, India, Switzerland, and Canada. Indeed, Canada was well represented with myself, Gillian Einstein (University of Toronto) and Lynn Posluns (WBHI) present. In addition, representatives from the Pharmaceutical Industry, Federal Drug and Food Administration and Lancet Psychiatry were also participated in the moderation or as speakers. The event was also live streamed.

The goal is to hold forums yearly in Lausanne to further promote the understanding that women’s health is an important area of research. A white paper will be published along with a special issue that is co-edited by myself and the president of the Women’s Brain Project, Maria-Teresa Ferreti, which will be published in Elsevier’s Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology.

For more information please see: and be sure to join us next year!

Figure 1. The speakers of Panel 1 at the 1st International Forum on Women’s Brain and Mental Health: Else Charlotte Sandset, Elena Becker-Barroso (our moderator), Liisa Galea, Gillian Einstein (all in the picture, together with Antonella Chadha Santuccione), Not pictured Lawrence Rajendran and Thorsten Buch. Suzana Petanceska who were also part of Panel 1.

Season’s Greetings from the Women’s Health Research Institute

Holiday card from Dr Lori Brotto
Click to enlarge.

As 2017 draws to a close, I am reminded of two annual traditions that surface at this time of the year. One is the frantic race to complete pressing tasks that I had committed to complete by year end. The second is the opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments, surprises, discoveries, challenges, and laughs over the year. 2017 was my first full year as Executive Director of the WHRI, and I continue to be awestruck with the innovative research led by our close to 200 members. The work you do has led to fundamental discoveries that will improve the lives and well-being of women, and in turn, society at large. After all, as Kofi Annan proudly declared, “When women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life.” Over this year I have witnessed new collaborations develop, and established ones flourish. I have witnessed meaningful conversations between diverse stakeholders who care about women’s health research. I have been humbled by the passion exuded by women’s health advocates, locally and globally. I am immensely proud to be part of an organization dedicated to women’s health research, and I am grateful for our relationship with each of you. I would like to personally wish you and yours a truly wonderful holiday, and hope that you also take the time to reflect and be proud of the role you’ve played.

BC Women’s Research Rounds: PErsonalized Genomics for prenatal Aneuploidy Screening USing maternal blood: Lessons Learned & Questions to be Answered

Presenter: Dr Sylvie Langlois, MD, FRCPC, FCCMG

Date: January 19th, 2018

Time: 8:00am – 9:00am

Location: Room D308 Shaughnessy Building

Goals/Learning Objectives:

  1. Review the approaches and performance of cfDNA screening tests for common aneuploidy.
  2. Demonstrate the impact of second tier cfDNA screening.
  3. Discuss questions to be answered by ongoing research in this filed.
Videoconferencing Sites
UBC Okanagan VC:  UBCO  RHS 129
Vancouver General Hospital VC:  VGH DHCC 2262
Northern BC VC:  UHNBC UHNBC 5005
Northern BC VC:  ARC MMH 1020

World AIDS Day: A look at Oak Tree Clinic

Oak Tree Clinic opened its doors in 1994 as the only HIV clinic in Canada catering specifically to the needs of women and children living with HIV.  Based on the recent paper “Women living with HIV envision women-centred HIV care” the clinic is the model that Canadian women living with HIV envision: it provides high-quality HIV care, integrates women’s health care, addresses the social determinants of physical and mental health, and provides holistic HIV women-centered care alongside four women’s peer-support groups.

Among their many accomplishments, Oak Tree has succeeded in preventing perinatal HIV transmissions for pregnant women engaged in Oak Tree Clinic care and who have been on antiretroviral therapy for greater than four weeks.  There has been no HIV transmission from mother to child for 20 years!  The clinic cares for women all along their life span- from delivery to youth/adulthood/ and aging.

The interdisciplinary team has also recently expanded the scope of care to provide Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) care and HCV cure to their HIV/HCV co-infected clients. This year ten patients were cured from HCV, and a further five currently receiving treatment will be cured in early 2018.

In advance of World AIDS Day, Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould visited Oak Tree Clinic to meet the clinic staff, a patient, and speak with Amber Campbell, a Research Assistant who participated in the Canada Summer Jobs program (a summer program for students interested in research).  Amber has recently been working alongside Dr Melanie Murray on the CARMA-2-CORE study to investigate the comorbidity and polypharmacy among women living with HIV (WLWH) in British Columbia.  This work is essential, as HIV-positive persons are living longer and comorbid conditions and concomitant medication use are increasing.
Research has been described in several, mainly male cohorts, so understanding the burden of comorbid chronic diseases and associated treatments among WLWH is beneficial for care optimization and to improve the lives of WLWH.

Amber continues to work on sorting through the diagnoses and medications reported by the study participants in order to see if WLWH obtain appropriate treatment of comorbidities, and the team hopes to present some of the preliminary data at the 2018 CAHR conference in Vancouver.  They will also be writing and submitting a manuscript to a journal in the new year.

In addition to this study, Amber is working on the WelTel project which explores the role that text messaging can play in improving the health of people living with HIV.  The team is currently working on building relationships with local Indigenous communities to ensure that the study is acceptable, safe, and of help to Indigenous persons.  These relationships will help shape the project, and will examine the ways in which they may determine who would benefit most from the text messaging program – and why – so that they can provide personalized care for those struggling with medication adherence.

The Oak Tree staff is leading some HIV women related guidelines, provincial and national, as well as work on many research projects.

Other research and advocacy-work conducted at Oak Tree Clinic includes:

  • Participate in the HIV/HCV co infection Canadian cohort, which is the largest cohort for co infection currently, with over 1000 participants, about 120 have been enrolled from the clinic.
  • Participation in the largest Canaidan women and HIV cohorts – SHAWNA and CHIWOS – lead in the clinic by Dr Kestler;
  • A study on Cellular Aging and HIV comorbidities in Women in Children lead by Dr H Cote with co-PIs Dr Pick and Dr Money (2013-2018);
  • Recent CIHR Bridge funding of $100 000 per year for a study entitled “Individual Disposition and mHealth: Personalized care to improve outcomes”, awarded to Dr Murray;
  • Research led by Dr Money, “Defining the maternal legacy: Does mode of delivery impact the role of the maternal vaginal microbiome in predicting the infant gut microbiome?”.

Dr Pick says People living with HIV have a right to health free of discrimination and stigma, and we hope that 2018 will be the year that delivers it!”

WHRI Annual Toy drive: a gift exchange with a twist!

Christmas tree with toys spread out underneath itAt the WHRI, we have a tradition of doing a holiday gift exchange with a twist.  Those who would like to participate are provided with a randomly selected co-worker’s name and asked to buy a gift for that person’s “inner child”.  This provides a valuable opportunity to think more deeply about our colleagues, and, thereafter, to donate these specially picked gifts to Crabtree Corner.  Crabtree Corner is a unique Downtown Eastside-based organization serving marginalized families, particularly those impacted by maternal substance use.

WHRI staff member stands holding present in front of christmas tree
WHRI staff member Nancy posing with one a Wonder Woman action figure.

Each year, the team has conscientiously selected a wonderful array of gits, focusing on typically underrepresented groups, such as boys, and older youth.  We aim for gifts that encourage physical activity, motor and educational development, and creativity, while we generally avoid toys that promote gender stereotypes.  This year we gathered round the table, a fitting homage to Crabtree Corner, where each year countless hot meals are prepared by former clients using produce sourced from a rooftop garden and community donations.  As a group, we opened a bevy of beautiful presents, with highlights including a scooter, movie passes, a $50 Old Navy gift-card, explorer and paleontology kits, and much more.  Thereafter, the gifts were delivered to the incredible team at Crabtree Corner, where staff hand-matched donations to families.

women stand holding presents in front of christmas tree at crabtree corner
WHRI staff members Nancy and Zahra (aka WHRI Christmas elves) delivering presents to Crabtree Corner.

At the WHRI, we are privileged to work alongside inspiring colleagues, to unite as a powerful team, and to belong to an incredible community.  This event provides a special opportunity for us to connect and share some of this privilege and thanks with our community.  We look forward to this event each year, and hope your holiday will be filled with similar goodwill and cheer!

Read more about Crabtree Corner here.

Dr Lori Brotto named APOG Researcher of the Year!

WHRI Executive Director Dr Lori Brotto is the 2017 recipient of the Association of Academic Professionals in Obstetrics and Gynaecology of Canada (APOG) Excellence in Research Award, which recognizes “outstanding scientific leadership, research mentoring, creative effort and major research accomplishments of a Canadian researcher active in APOG”.

Congrats, Lori, on this well-deserved achievement!

Women’s Health Research Symposium Report

On October 25 2017, the Women’s Health Research Institute, together with the Vice President Research Office at Simon Fraser University, hosted a half-day women’s health research symposium at the beautiful SFU Diamond Alumni Centre. The event was entitled, “Examining diversity across disciplines, decades, and distances”.

The event consisted of a trainee breakfast, a keynote presentation by Dr Joy Johnson, and three panels: Mapping the Future for Women’s Health research: Equity, Diversity, and Success; Harnessing New Science & Technology for Women’s Health; and Supportive Environments, Policies, and Laws for Women’s Health.

Read the full symposium report below.


Support for Canadian Research in new report from FINA

The House of Common’s Standing Committee on Finance (FINA) released its report, Driving Inclusive Growth: Spurring Productivity and Competitiveness in Canada that contains recommendations for consideration by the Minister of Finance for the 2018 federal budget. A number of recommendations stemming from the Naylor Report and Canada’s Fundamental Science Review have been proposed, including:

  • Recommendation 2: Provide funds to the Canadian Cardiovascular Society’s pan-Canadian heart health initiative.
  • Recommendation 3: Invest in ovarian cancer research to advance a personalized medicine platform for this cancer and to reduce the five-year mortality rate associated with it.
  • Recommendation 87: Support research hospitals by providing direct eligibility for infrastructure and innovation support and by increasing funding, over a four-year period, for investigator-led fundamental research.
  • Recommendation 50: Using the Fundamental Science Review (the Naylor Report) as a framework for long-term support of science and research. In particular, the government should invest in investigator-led research, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, applied science research institutions, as well as in agricultural research. The government should also expand access to the Canadian Graduate Scholarship program.
  • Recommendation 16: Increase Canadian students’ access to undergraduate research opportunities.
  • Recommendation 19: Support a pilot grant through the SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR that would provide students and faculty with an incentive to develop open educational resources.

This is good news for WHRI researchers and for all Canadians involved in research.

We will update our members on the status of these recommendations as they are available.

For more information, please see:

Defining outcomes and opportunities for reproductive health and pregnancy among adolescents in post-conflict Northern Uganda


The current generation of adolescents 10-24 years old is the largest in human history. Adolescence is a crucial time in terms of health, education and skills which will determine social and economic development over the life course. While focused global action on maternal and child health based on the Millennium Development Goals has resulted in impressive reduction in child mortality, the same cannot be said for adolescent well-being. Sexual, reproductive and maternal health issues remain a leading cause of death in adolescent girls, especially in low income countries. Adolescent pregnancies are associated with exceptionally poor outcomes for both the adolescent mother and child.

Adolescents often lack the awareness, choice and access to health services which contribute to poor sexual health and maternal outcomes. Contraception, family planning, human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and screening for sexually transmitted infections (STI) including HIV, gonorrhea, and Chlamydia are feasible, effective prevention tools that, when offered with treatment and counseling can save countless deaths among young people. The way forward is integration of health services where prevention and early treatment packages are tailored to the needs of adolescents.

The civil war in Northern Uganda, which lasted over two decades, displaced over 90% of the region into internally displaced people camps. The majority of this population (70%) was under 25 years old. During the war thousands of children were abducted to become soldiers, forced labourers, and sex slaves. Building on previous research, a team led by Dr. Patricia Spittal launched the Cango Lyec Project in 2011. This cohort consists of a random sample of participants aged 13-59 years in Northern Uganda residing in permanent settlement communities, transition camps, or internal displacement camps.

Through the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, Healthy Starts Catalyst program, a team of local researchers were funded to explore key factors related to adolescent health services in Northern Uganda, leveraging the Cango Lyec cohort. Dr Spittal has been leading projects in Northern Uganda since 1998, and is the Principal Investigator of the Cango Lyec Project. Dr Gina Ogilvie is a Canada Research Chair in global control of HPV related cancer & disease, and has been leading a women’s health initiative based in Uganda since 2007. Dr Ashley Roberts is a pediatric infectious diseases physician at BC Children’s Hospital with clinical and research experience in North America and abroad.

This study aims to understand existing access to reproductive and maternal health services for adolescents. Participants completed a survey on pregnancy intentions and outcomes during adolescence and access to sexual health services using community outreach workers who traveled to urban and rural villages in the region in early 2017. Results from the study are forthcoming, where the team will describe services available in this setting, and identify opportunities to improve adolescent maternal health. This data will be used to design future implementation trials and evaluations for adolescents in LMIC.