Recent Projects

One of the key ways that WCHRI supports research excellence is through competitive grant funding. Our programs include: operating (innovation) grants; bridge funding; graduate, summer and science shop studentships; start-up grants; endowed chairs; and recruitment and retention grants. Our competitive grant programs and partnership strategies facilitate the use of our resources in a way that maximizes impact and leverages funds from other partners and agencies.

Below, you will find brief descriptions of just a few of the outcomes from the exciting research that our academic and trainee members have carried out recently.

Autism Research

Dr. Lonnie Zwaigenbaum is the Chair in Autism Research supported by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation.  Dr. Zwaigenbaum and his team focus on early development in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD is a form of disability that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with other people. One of Dr. Zwaigenbaum’s projects is the “Infant Sibling Study,” which involves younger siblings of children with ASD. Research has shown that the siblings are at an increased risk of developing ASD, and other difficulties such as language delay. The team’s goal is to develop better strategies for early detection, diagnosis and intervention; so far this research has helped inform clinical practice to detect early signs of ASD.

Childhood Asthma Research

Dr. Anita Kozyrskyj, has made headlines worldwide with her innovative research on childhood asthma.  Interestingly, her studies have linked rising asthma rates to fast food consumption, low family income, early vaccinations and antibiotic use in infancy.

Childhood Obesity

Dr. Geoff Ball received a WCHRI Innovation grant to develop an effective tool to initiate conversa­tions around childhood obesity and come up with appropriate solutions for this sensitive topic. “Many of the families that our clinical team works with have had negative experiences in talking with health care professionals about weight-related issues,” says Dr. Ball.   His team has developed “Conversation Cards” for better communication between parents and health care professionals.

Personalizing Chemotherapy Treatments in Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a complex disease that affects 11 per cent of Canadian women. Unfortunately, many of the drugs and chemotherapeutic treatments for breast cancer are toxic and have serious side effects including causing death to not only the cancer cells but the surrounding healthy cells as well. In collaboration with Dr. John Mackey, Dr. Ing Swie Goping and her colleagues analyzed previous research into how chemotherapeutic drugs kill cancer cells and how this information can help direct personalized medicine for chemotherapeutic treatments.

Empowering Youth with the Skill to Consciously Reduce Stress

Helping youth learn how to manage stress is on the mind of Dr. Sunita Vohra. Dr. Vohra is currently leading research in the field of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which is a form of complementary medicine used to treat a variety of health issues. MBSR has been proven to empower individuals with the skills to help center themselves and focus, allowing them to make choices or view situations from a calmer point of view.

Helping our Youth Transition to Adult Care

Organizing the appointments, treatments and prescriptions involved in managing an adolescent’s congenital heart disease (CHD) can seem daunting even when there is a parent to help. What happens when it comes time for a young adult to take care of everything personally? Dr. Andrew Mackie and his colleagues are now closer to developing a nurse-led protocol that will assist these patients in their transition from pediatric care to adult care. Dr. Mackie used Innovation Grant funding to develop a novel clinic-based transition intervention for youth with congenital heart disease and is examining whether this intervention improves self-management skills such as renewing medication prescriptions.

Fetal Origins of Adult Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes

Drs. Sandra Davidge and Jason Dyck received an Innovation grant to determine if fetal growth restriction (i.e. low birth weight) leads to long-term chronic disease such as diabetes. It is now becoming understood that the quality of the fetal environment is important for programming cardiovascular health and disease. This team has now discovered that offspring born small have a greater risk for central obesity and abnormal lipid profiles, along with early signs of diabetes. Understanding that there is an increased risk will lead to development of early intervention for prevention of chronic diseases in this susceptible population.

Knowledge Translation

Dr. Lisa Hartling tested the hypothesis that music reduces pain and anxiety in the Pediatric emergency department.  Her study, funded by a WCHRI Innovation grant, showed that music was effective in reducing pain and distress among children undergoing intravenous starts in the emergency department. This also addressed the capacity to optimize family-centered care in this clinical setting.

Healthy Lifestyle and Weight Gain in Pregnancy

Dr. Rhonda Bell utilized a Scientific Knowledge Exchange Program grant to organize a workshop aligning with the investigation into childhood obesity as it relates to maternal obesity, gestational weight gain and (maternal) lifestyle behaviours, including their impacts on fetal growth and the cycle of obesity. Dr. Bell and workshop participants wanted to determine the role of health-care providers in gestational weight gain management. The group determined that health-care providers must be aware of the “health” of the womb and they play a significant role in the promotion and adoption of healthy lifestyle and weight gain in pregnancy. One of the eventual goals of these discussions is to encourage health-care providers to discuss the benefits and guidelines of healthy weight gain with their pregnant patients.

Targeting Premature Delivery

Heather Bronson, a WCHRI Summer Studentship participant, studied the involvement of a specific family of proteins in late gestation. Previous studies suggest that preterm labour, in the absence of infection, is a result of changes in expression of these proteins occurring too early. Ms. Bronson, however, discovered that this expression actually only occurs within five days prior to the onset of labour and that blocking these proteins may help prolong pregnancy in cases where pre-term birth threatens. Ms. Bronson hopes her research will lead to the development of a method for predicting which expectant mothers are at risk of premature delivery. 

Heart Disease in Newborns

Newborns with congenital heart disease have poor heart function and reduced blood flow to organs including the brain and intestine.  Medications are often used to support heart function and improve tissue blood flow. A study by Dr. Po-Yin Cheung confirmed the safety and beneficial effects of a relatively new drug called milrinone for use in critically ill newborns with congenital heart disease.  Based on data from a WCHRI Bridge grant (designed to allow the researcher to generate preliminary data), Dr. Cheung recently received a CIHR grant to continue to study heart problems in newborns with reduced oxygen flow.

Heart Transplantation in Children

Dr. Lori West is leading the Canadian National Transplant Research Program; a national initiative designed to increase organ and tissue donation in Canada and enhance the survival and quality of life of Canadians who receive transplants. Program 6 of the initiative specifically addresses the complex challenges of providing health care in pediatric and young adult transplant recipients.

Managing Strokes in Babies

Drs. Jaynie Yang and Monica Gorassini have developed an entirely novel way of treating babies who have suffered perinatal strokes. By focusing on the critical period for leg neurodevelopment, therapies can be directed to when the effects will be greatest. The benefits of this research will be reflected in huge benefits as the child ages by reducing the need for surgeries, reducing secondary complications, increasing mobility, and leading to greater participation in employment and less dependence on social supports. These ongoing studies have now received funding from both AIHS and CIHR.

Helping to Unravel a Treatment for Constant Hunger

Obesity is one of the leading causes of health problems in our society, especially our children. A genetic disorder called Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) causes children to experience constant hunger and insatiable appetites, and they rapidly gain weight when their food intake is not controlled. Dr. Rachel Wevrick co-discovered many of the genes involved in Prader-Willi syndrome and her research focuses on understanding the genetic basis of developmental delay and obesity with the ultimate goal of developing treatments for this challenging disease.

Stimulating Lower Jaw Growth in Children

In some young children the lower jaw does not grow as fast as the upper jaw. This reduced lower jaw growth not only affects the visual appearance of the child, but can also affect the airway causing sleep apnea or other breathing complications. The most common current treatments include surgery or orthodontic therapies. Dr. Tarek El-Bialy’s research has led to less invasive and easier ways of treating this problem, using ultrasound and other therapeutic, non-surgical approaches to enhance or stimulate lower jaw growth. 

Helping FASD Children with Math

Ms. Katrina Kully-Martens, in her Graduate Studentship, is implementing a mathematics-based intervention (Mathematics Interactive Learning Experience - MILE) into the school setting to determine its success with assisting Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) learners in math. These findings will provide novel insight and impact in intervention research and services delivery, and inform health providers, parents and others of how best to meet the needs of FASD learners.

Pain Treatment in Babies

Opioids like morphine are often used for pain treatment in very ill premature infants and newborns. Unfortunately, these drugs can have many unwanted side-effects. One of the most significant and potentially dangerous is that these drugs depress breathing.  The outcomes of an ongoing study by Dr. Greg Funk may have therapeutic potential for reducing the depression of breathing that can result from using opioids for pain relief in babies.

Treatment for Infectious Disease

Mr. Christen Klinger, as a WCHRI Summer Studentship participant, studied the mechanisms that drive production and function, at the cellular level, of the infectious disease Toxoplasmosis. Through the study of this parasite, Christen hopes to be able to effectively treat and thereby limit the health impacts suffered by those infected by the disease. Christen has used this experience to continue his education as he pursues his graduate research studies.

Testing Heart Function in Early Pregnancy

Dr. Lisa Hornberger used funding by an Innovation grant to explore the use of echocardiography (sonogram of the heart) in early pregnancy to investigate fetal heart function and identify potential pregnancy outcomes including, viability, nuchal translucency (a test performed in the first trimester to determine whether Down’s Syndrome is suspected in pregnancy) and aneuploidy (abnormal number of chromosomes with the cells). Dr. Hornberger has found that the early fetal myocardium (heart muscle) is very restrictive in some fetuses. While work is still being done to assess the accuracy of this test, the echocardiography could become a standard, non-invasive way to test heart function in early pregnancy.

Communicating Research Results

Dr. Ian Adatia utilized a Scientific Knowledge Exchange Program grant to participate in the World Congress of Pediatric Cardiology. The Stollery Children’s Hospital (SCH) and University of Alberta pediatric cardiology program were highlighted as dynamic options to seek further training. At the congress, it was also noted that the SCH influenced and contributed to the care of pediatric patients with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (or HLHS, a congenital heart defect where the left (heart) ventricle is severely underdeveloped). New ideas, suggestions and interactions resulting from Dr. Adatia’s participation in this event have catalyzed interest in new areas of collaborative research investigation and delivery of care.

Listening to our Sick Children

Dr. Gwen Rempel, supported by an Innovation grant, looked at the impressions of children that suffer from Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) and their siblings. Assessing CHD and the burdens associated with the disease from the child and sibling point of view is unique. Dr. Rempel wanted to help children suffering from CHD and their siblings to have their voices heard and their needs addressed. While survival rates for this disease are improving, this research helps to engage the child and their siblings in how they transition into adulthood.

Helping Children with Disabilities

Ms. Janine Halayko, supported by WCHRI’s Science Shop program, successfully taught children with mild cognitive disabilities to ride a bike. Some of the children required modifications to their current bikes, leading to collaborations with the University of Alberta’s Faculties of Engineering and Rehabilitation Medicine. This research has provided Ms. Halayko with a very good framework on how to more appropriately support children with cognitive disabilities and their instructors in cycling education.