Dr. Denise Pugash is the 2018 recipient of the Health Professional Investigator in Women’s Health Research Award

Dr. Denise PugashThe Women’s Health Research Institute is delighted to announce that Dr. Denise Pugash has been named the 2018 recipient of the Health Professional Investigator in Women’s Health Research Award.  The award – which recognizes research excellence in a British Columbian health professional actively involved in patient care or public health practice – was presented by Dr. Lori Brotto at the Third Annual Women’s Health Research Symposium on May 9th, 2018.

Dr. Pugash is the Project lead for the PRIME (Perinatal Research IMaging Evaluation) centre, and a Diagnostic Radiologist with BC Womens Hospital + Health Centre’s Diagnostic Ambulatory program. She can also be found working at UBC, where she is a Clinical Professor in the Department of Radiology, and a Clinical Professor (Associate Member) in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology in the Division of Maternal-Fetal-Medicine).

Dr. Pugash has devoted her career to conducting ground-breaking research using real-time, high-resolution ultrasound and MRI to study fetal brain development. She is a world leader in using ultrasound to detect serious conditions affecting babies in-utero such as fetal infection and spina bifida.

Congratulations, Dr. Pugash!

Dr. Joy Johnson awarded the 2018 Career Contribution to Women’s Health Research Award

Dr. Joy Johnson receiving award from dr. Lori BrottoThe Women’s Health Research Institute is excited to announce that on May 9th, 2018 the second annual Career Contribution to Women’s Health Research Award was awarded to Dr. Joy Johnson, SFU Vice President, Research.  This award is given annually to a British Columbian researcher who has made an outstanding and exemplary contribution to women’s health research in the province and globally during their career.

The award was presented at the Third Annual Women’s Health Research Symposium, where Dr. Johnson delivered a spotlight talk highlighting the importance of considering sex and gender diversity in research. Among her many accomplishments Dr. Johnson has acted as Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health, where she helped shape multiple initiatives including the development of a sex and gender training curriculum.  She was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of WHRI, and was recognized in 2010 as one of British Columbia’s 100 Women of Excellence.

Dr. Joy Johnson giving a speech
“Sex and gender in health research has too often been box ticking or simple comparative work… and that’s just not cutting it.” (Source: @bcwomensfdn)

In Dr. Johnson’s current role at SFU she helps to promote and support research across disciplines, and offer guidance for policy at both university and government levels.

2018 Women’s Health Research Institute Catalyst Grants

The Women’s Health Research Institute (WHRI), in partnership with the BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre Foundation, is pleased to announce a Catalyst Grant competition for the advancement of knowledge in women’s health. A total of three awards will be awarded at $25,000 each. These Pilot Grants are an open competition with respect to funding a project in women’s health. However, priority will be given to themes identified within the WHRI and to projects that include Indigenous Groups. Awards are open to BC researchers at a university or research hospital setting, but candidates must be a member of the WHRI. Eligible researchers include post-doctoral fellows, research associates, clinician scientists and professors.

New emerging teams, dedicated to women’s health, and investigators new to studying women’s health are encouraged to apply. As these funds are considered Catalyst Grants, the expectation is that these awards will provide pilot data to be used for future funding from provincial or federal sources. However, these funds cannot be used to subsidize an already-funded project.

For more information and to apply see the WHRI Catalyst Grant page.

Presenting the BC Women’s Health Research Agenda

cover of the women's health research agendaOn May 9th, 2018 the Women’s Health Research Institute presented the BC Women’s Health Research Agenda at the Third Annual Women’s Health Research Symposium.

The BC Women’s Health Research Agenda “[identifies] key challenges, drivers, and enablers to women’s health research and implementation efforts in BC; and, [presents] strategies for enabling, facilitating, and accelerating growth and excellence in women’s health research and implementation” (p.3).  It was developed by Karen Gelb (Manager, Knowledge Translation, UBC Midwifery Program), Tobi Reid (Research Assistant, UBC Midwifery Program), and Dr. Lori Brotto (WHRI Executive Director).

The BC Women’s Health Research Agenda is available for download here, as is the complimentary document, Take Action for Change, which provides examples of the many ways people can advocate for women’s health research individually, locally, provincially, and federally.

To join the conversation about the BC Women’s Health Research Agenda use #WomensResearchAgenda on Twitter and tag @womensresearch.

MSFHR 2018 Health Professional-Investigator Award Recipients announced!

Congratulations to Drs. Melanie Murray and Paul Yong, two of the twelve recipients of the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Health Professional-Investigator Awards! The program “is designed to help decrease the gap between health research and its implementation.

Dr. Murray has been awarded for the project Individual disposition and mHealth: Personalized care to improve outcomes, which will explore the efficacy of text message-based antiretroviral adherence support in 300 HIV patients.

Dr. Yong’s project, Sexual pain in endometriosis: Role of somatic mutations, 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.

Read the full list of recipients here.

Mental Health Week: An Interview with Dr. Joelle LeMoult

Dr. Joelle LeMoultMay 7 – May 13th  2018 marks the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) Mental Health Week.  In light of Mental Health Week, Dr. Joelle LeMoult spoke to WHRI about mental health, research, and stress. Read the interview below!


In CMHA’s campaign they mention that although we may not all live with mental health problems, we all “have mental health, just like we all have physical health”.  What does this mean for the importance of mental health research?

CMHA’s powerful campaign emphasizes that mental health exists along a continuum. Accordingly, we don’t need to wait until our mental health is problematic to seek help or to want change. Instead, everyone can strive for mental health improvement and balance. This has a number of implications for mental health research. First, it emphasizes the importance of expanding research so that it works to improve both the treatment of mental illness and the promotion of mental wellbeing. Second, it demonstrates that research on mental health benefits all of us. With that in mind, #SupportTheReport is critical to ensuring that we all continue to benefit from research on mental health.

How does gender impact mental health and how mental health research is conducted?

Much of my research focuses on depression, which tends to affect women twice as often as it does men. There are both gender-specific and sex-specific factors that contribute to this difference in the prevalence of depression between women and men. For a long time, we overlooked these factors in research, and as a result we were missing a big part of the story. In more recent years, however, we have been able to make exciting strides in our understanding of depression because we have begun to uncover the sociocultural and biological factors that make women more vulnerable (and there are several WHRI members who have been at the forefront of that progress!). Importantly, this has improved our understanding and treatment of depression for both women and men. In fact, that’s the exciting part about conducting gender-specific mental health research, it enables us to better understand the disorder across the whole population.

In recent years discussion about mental wellness and self-care seem to have been gaining traction in mainstream and social media. How do you think we might move toward bridging the gap between ‘trending topics’ and consistent dialogue?

This is an important question. I think we are moving toward breaking down the stigma that is associated with mental health difficulties. People are starting to conceptualize mental health problems in the same way that they conceptualize physical health problems. Our community is also starting to realize that we are all affected by mental health problems, either because they affect us personally or because they affect someone we care about. As a result, I think we are starting to talk more openly about the importance of self-care. This is also beginning to encourage policy changes – for example, the addition of social-emotional learning to the BC School curriculum. All of this has come because of people being willing to share their own story and/or advocate for change. I am particularly excited when I hear conversations about self-care and mental health awareness in youth as it not only promotes a generation that is raised with different views of mental health, but it also moves us from intervention to prevention.

Often being busy and handling stress ‘well’ is associated with success, and in our culture this could be seen as a romanticization of ‘stress’ itself (example: http://theeverygirl.com/why-do-we-romanticize-stress/).  Could you give your thoughts on how this affects mental health?

The romanticization of stress is something I have seen in both my research and personal life, particularly in some cultures or environments. Unfortunately, I think many individuals focus more on the “being busy and stressed” side of the coin than on the “handling stress well” side of the coin. There is a tremendous amount of research showing that how we handle stress – hope we perceive it, cope with it, and contain it – is critical to mental health and wellbeing. Both stress and our ability to cope with that stress is related to the onset of many mental health difficulties, including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Thus, from my perspective, not only do we need broader cultural changes in our romanticization of stress, but we can benefit from more immediate changes in the way we cope with stress. This includes recognizing signs that we are too stressed, better regulating our emotions in the face of stress, and creating/using a social-support network that facilitates positive coping strategies.

What signs should people look for to recognize the differences between a typical response to stress and responses which are akin to depressive episodes?

Depressive episodes are frequently triggered by stress; in fact, much of my research examines the link between stress and depression, so I think this is an incredibly important question. Typical responses to stress are shorter and can be more easily contained than responses that are akin to a depressive episode. Depressive episodes, on the other hand, are more likely to be associated with significant impairment in your personal or professional life, and it is important to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider if you notice your stress affecting your life in this way. Signs of depression also include feelings of sadness or persistent loss of interest in your daily activities for most of the time for a couple of weeks.

You can read more about the CMHA’s campaign here. #GetLoud!

National Immunization Awareness Week: Working toward an STI Vaccine

By Laurie Smith

Sexually transmitted infections (STI) are a significant cause of morbidity, mortality, and health system burden globally, with over half a billion STIs occur annually. STI infections can cause fetal & neonatal death through perinatal transmission (syphilis), various types of cancer (HPV), infertility (gonorrhea & chlamydia), physical & psychosocial distress, and can increase HIV risk. In BC, STIs rates for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis have been steadily increasing in recent decades.

In June 2016, the World Health Organization highlighted opportunities for innovation, such as STI vaccines, as a priority focus through their Global Health Sector Strategy on STIs, and this strategy sets ambitious targets which include significant reductions in various STIs around the world. BC is a global leader in HPV vaccine research and evaluation and policy planning and implementation. Researchers in BC now have a unique opportunity to leverage the HPV vaccine experience and apply it to other STI vaccines.

A consortium of STI and vaccine experts in BC are collaborating to become global leaders in STI vaccine research and planning. This group, which includes WHRI researchers, will be instrumental in contributing to the emerging field of STI vaccine development in the years to come.

Yuebo Yang has been selected to receive the Endocrine Society’s 2018 Summer Research Fellowship Award

Yuebo YangCongratulations to Yuebo Yang, a student working with Dr. Jerilynn Prior, who has been selected to receive the Endocrine Society’s 2018 Summer Research Fellowship Award.

This summer Yuebo will be working with Dr. Prior and the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research.  His research project will use RCT data to analyze the changes in serum sclerostin over 12 weeks during which healthy menopausal women were randomized to blinded treatment with oral micronized progesterone or identical placebo. Sclerostin, secreted by osteocytes (bone-buried osteoblasts) suppresses bone formation while progesterone acts through the osteoblast receptor to stimulate bone formation. It is currently known that estrogen suppresses sclerostin, but there are no data about progesterone’s potential effect.

The award will provide a stipend for Yuebo’s research as well as funding to present the results of his work at the Annual Endocrine Society meeting in New Orleans next March.

Dr. Anna Lehman is the 2018 recipient of the WHRI Genomic Medicine Clinician Scientist Salary Award

Photo of Dr. Anna LehmanCongratulations to Dr. Anna Lehman, recipient of the WHRI Genomic Medicine Clinician Scientist Salary Award!  The award provides partial salary support for three years to enable an early- to mid-career clinical geneticist to become an independent clinician scientist leading a genomic medicine research program at BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre.

Dr. Lehman has worked for the last seven as a clinical geneticist at Children’s & Women’s Health Centre of British Columbia and as Associate Professor of Medical Genetics at the University of British Columbia.  Through this work she has been building a translational research program geared toward improving the process of genomic diagnosis.  BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre is currently supporting two projects developed through this program and co-led by Dr. Lehman: CAUSES (Clinical Assessment of the Utility of Sequencing and Evaluation as a Service), and RAPIDOMICS.

With the award Dr. Lehman intends to continue in her roles on the Silent Genomes, Care4Rare-Solve, and IMAGINE projects, as well as submit a grant application as principle investigator for her long-term project on the causes of Adams-Oliver syndrome.  She will also continue to research on therapeutics for rare inborn errors of metabolism as site principle investigator of an upcoming multi-site phase III randomized, blinded placebo-controlled clinical trial.  Finally, Dr. Lehman will continue to supervise and train postdoctoral fellows and PhD students in the science of genome analysis.

A special thanks to BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre Foundation for funding this award.

International Women’s Day 2018

International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world on March 8 every year. It is a day to recognize and celebrate the achievements of women, to raise awareness of important social issues relevant to women, and to make change. Over the past few years, the Women’s Health Research Institute (WHRI) has celebrated International Women’s Day with a free public forum as an opportunity to share vital information about women’s health to a public audience. This year’s public forum, Stressed and Depressed? Depression in Women from the teenage to the golden years, explored mental health throughout a woman’s lifespan and was held at the Italian Cultural Centre.

The public was welcomed by WHRI Executive Director Dr. Lori Brotto, who gave a brief history on International Women’s Day, followed by some brief remarks from Genesa Greening, CEO and President of BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre Foundation, on (insert).  The forum was emceed by Shirley Weir, Founder of Menopause Chicks, who gracefully guided the evening with humour, real stories, and an unparalleled ability to connect with people.

We were excited to feature three experts who highlighted the many unique mental health challenges women face throughout their lives.  Presentations kicked off with BC Children’s Hospital consulting psychiatrist Dr. Joanna McDermid, who shared insights on the use of mindfulness to combat common stressors, anxiety, and depression throughout in adolescent girls. Next, Dr. Deidre Ryan, Medical Director of the Reproductive Mental Health Program presented More than the Blues: Depression during Pregnancy & after Childbirth; and finally, Dr. Reema Jayakar, an experienced Neuropsychologist, spoke about the overlap between mood and memory and cognitive decline in elderly women.

Be sure to watch www.whri.org or follow us on twitter @womensresearch for our next public forum and keep in mind these events are always FREE!