Our Research

WCHRI is an academic Institute of the University of Alberta, with researchers and clinicians working at the U of A, the Stollery Children's Hospital and the Lois Hole Hospital for Women at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. WCHRI currently has three major areas of focus: Women's Health, Perinatal Health, and Child Health. See examples of our expertise at the bottom of this page.

We believe that research is integral to excellence in healthcare. Our goals are:

  • To support basic and discovery research in the laboratory that has the potential to impact outcomes in women and children’s health.
  • To support clinical and translational research by creating the ‘Research-Integrated Hospital.'

These goals will enhance our current investment and allow us to leverage provincial and national opportunities to capitalize on the research and clinical expertise that is currently part of WCHRI.

Within these areas of focus, our current programs include:

Pregnancy Outcomes Program

WCHRI has submitted a $12 million infrastructure grant to the 2015 Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) program. If funded, we will create the Pregnancy Outcomes Program , which will facilitate transformative research in the continuum of women’s, maternal, fetal and children’s health from the discovery research environment at the University of Alberta to the clinical setting. Importantly, it will establish research-integrated hospitals, in which research space and equipment is established at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women and the Stollery Children’s Hospital. The Pregnancy Outcomes Program will produce leading edge scientific evidence that will:

  1. Identify therapeutic targets and drugs to reduce the risk for pregnancy complications and lead to improved life-long health in women and children.
  2. Create early intervention strategies to reduce the risk for and impact of chronic cardiovascular and neurological complications in children.
  3. Generate improved outcomes for the unique health challenges of women. The Program will directly translate this knowledge from the discovery research environment to patients and into the community.

The Pregnancy Outcomes Program is an integrated thematic program focused on pregnancy complications and long-term maternal and fetal outcomes. The Program will expand WCHRI’s research capacity, and integrate research and clinical applications. Under the umbrella of WCHRI’s established and effective governance, operating and support structures, the Program will become active immediately upon funding.

Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD)

The DOHaD concept describes how during early life (at conception, and/or during fetal life, infancy and early childhood), the environment induces changes in development that can have long term impact on later health and disease risk. 

It is thought that some of these developmental alterations come about through changes in the activity of genes through epigenetic processes. Changes in gene expression and/or action may mediate responses to challenges in adulthood, such as poor diet or unhealthy lifestyle, and so affect disease risk across the life course. Timely interventions may reduce such risk in individuals and also limit its transmission to the next generation. DOHaD thus has very important implications for many societies and for global health policy.

Examples of Areas of Research Activity by Members of the Women & Children’s Health Research Institute 

The members of the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute (WCHRI) have the common vision of improving women and children’s health through research and dissemination of research results to broad audiences. The Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation (RAHF) and the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation (SCHF) support the shared vision of improving women and children’s health and hence support WCHRI. Research in the following areas by WCHRI members is directed towards better diagnosis, treatments and/or interventions and improving health outcomes.  

 Perinatal Health 

A converging area of women and children's research is perinatal health. Research has now shown that early life events (i.e. pregnancy complications) can increase the risk of chronic disease later in life for both the mother and her child, and thus impact the health of all Albertans. As such, it is important to strive to improve the health of women by minimizing pregnancy complication rates, and optimizing infant outcomes. Pregnancy complications, particularly preeclampsia and preterm birth, are leading causes for both maternal and neonatal illness and mortality. Research is being conducted in the prevention and/or treatment of pregnancy complications that will lead to improved maternal health and better outcomes for the newborn (neonatal research). Moreover, perinatal mental health and family/community research for healthy families are both areas of research by our members that traverse both women and children’s health.

Children's Health

Improved pregnancy outcomes are only the beginning in improving children’s health.  Disorders of children often affect multiple organ systems. While some of these disorders may be individually rare, collectively they form the most common reason for families to seek care at the Stollery Children’s Hospital. Multiple areas of child health research are supported by the SCHF, including:

  • Fetal Programming of Chronic Diseases - Pregnancy complications can have a long-term impact on offspring such as increased risk for obesity/diabetes, impacts on brain development/mental health and cardiovascular disease in later life. WCHRI members have extensive expertise and research strengths in these areas.
  • Brain/Neurodevelopment/Mental Health - Some WCHRI researchers have wide expertise in neurosciences with specific research strengths in autism; cerebral palsy; stroke; brain tumors; fetal alcohol syndrome; adolescent mental health; breathing and sleep disorders of newborns and children, genetics and neurological development; neurocognitive outcomes after invasive therapies; and pediatric pain management.
  • Lung Health - Some of our members have specific expertise in examining factors before birth and in the environment leading to asthma, lung damage and cystic fibrosis.
  • Cardiovascular Disorders and Thrombosis - A significant strength of many WCHRI members is special expertise in newborn heart transplantation, cardiac congenital abnormalities and cardiovascular function (newborn and children) and blood clotting disorders (thrombosis).
  • Disorders of the Gastrointestinal System - Our member expertise includes research in disease conditions (e.g. eosinophilic esophagitis, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, colitis, short gut syndrome) and complications of liver transplantation.
  • Disorders of the Kidney – Research of kidney disease that has specific impact on children is the focus of some of our members including: acute and chronic kidney injury (the latter from transplantation), and IgA nephropathy.
  • Childhood Obesity/Nutrition/Endocrinology - Some WCHRI researchers have expertise in developing effective treatment programs for children with severe obesity (which can lead to type 2 diabetes in the pediatric population) and also examine genetic and environmental factors that may predispose children to obesity.
  • Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders – Research strengths lie in examining the molecular basis of certain cancers and related blood disorders, possible new treatment strategies and cancer surveillance.
  • Musculoskeletal System/Rehabilitation - Our members’ expertise ranges from basic, clinical and community research to improve children’s well being.

Women's Health 

Women's health research is supported by the RAHF, which has a priority to support the Lois Hole Hospital for Women. Our members have specific expertise in the following areas:

  • Women’s Health In addition to perinatal/maternal health as noted above, the impact of a complicated pregnancy on the mother can increase her risk for later life chronic diseases such as metabolic and cardiovascular diseases and diabetes; another important research area is focused on how stress affects women's health.
  • Mature Women’s Health - Includes the successful recruitment of the Cavarzan Chair in Mature Women’s Health with a targeted focus on urogynecological complications (urinary incontinence) as well as menopause. In addition, WCHRI researchers have expertise in women’s cardiovascular health, which is at increased risk for postmenopausal women.
  • Gynecological/Breast Cancer - Some of our researchers are focused on specific targeted research in ovarian cancer and we have successfully recruited into the Ovarian Cancer Chair position.