August 24, 2020

Spotlight on: cardiovascular researcher Padma Kaul in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry

Photo supplied by Padma Kaul.

Padma Kaul knows what it takes to build a successful research program.

The epidemiologist, professor of cardiology, co-director of the Canadian VIGOUR Centre and newly-appointed CIHR Sex and Gender Science Chair in Diabetes built a research program centred around long-term health outcomes following pregnancy from the ground up. But she didn’t do it alone.

“Successful researchers are generally part of a group because you can’t do it all on your own,” says Kaul. “Research is a team sport. To be effective, you need to develop great working relationships along the way.”

Kaul studied business at the University of Delhi before enrolling in the Master’s of Public Policy Analysis at the University of Rochester. It was there while working for a consortium of top American academic medical centres that she was introduced to health research.

She finished her PhD at the University of Alberta and set off to Duke University for a Postdoctoral Fellowship before coming back as an assistant professor in the Division of Cardiology in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

From there, Kaul decided to focus her research, and for the wife and mother of two girls, it was personal.

“One of the reasons I study the areas of pregnancy and diabetes was that when I was pregnant, I had questions for my doctors they couldn’t answer. One of them said, ‘If you have these questions, why don’t you write a grant application and go study it?’ And that’s what I did.”

With a Partnership Grant and research methodology support from WCHRI, Kaul developed a pregnancy and birth cohort, tracking women who gave birth across Alberta over a 15-year period to see their health outcomes over time. This helped her identify the lifelong effects of gestational diabetes and other pregnancy-related complications.

Success from this project led to her recently-awarded CIHR funding for a study that looks at complications during pregnancy and whether they are markers for cardiovascular disease in the mother long term.

“When a CIHR grant comes through, you walk on air for a few days,” says Kaul, explaining that she also gets to work with a special data set. “Unlike most places in the world, we’re able to link in to all of the lab and drug data for the entire cohort across Alberta. We’re getting requests to collaborate internationally because the data we have is so unique.”

At work, unless she blocks off time to write, she’s collaborating in her lab. She works with statisticians, epidemiologists, research associates and other scientists who work with the data. “Working with a team that is so engaged and able to come together to do new things is the best part of my job,” says Kaul.

She also has a busy family life. “My daughters are in the ‘tween ages, so there’s a lot of shuttling around. We have a playful golden retriever who broke my finger roughhousing a couple of months ago. Beyond that, reading is a huge luxury and something that I love to do whenever I can. And I’ve started dabbling in silversmithing.”

For Kaul, collaboration has been instrumental in her success, as well as perseverance.

“Collaborating with Sandra Davidge and Christy-Lynn Cooke has been very helpful with getting funded by CIHR,” says Kaul. “Tatjana Alvadj [WCHRI research coordinator] was fantastic with restructuring the knowledge translation section of our application—we received some really positive feedback from reviewers.”

“There are times when you will face rejections. You can’t throw in the towel the first time your paper or your grant gets rejected or your supervisor doesn’t like your idea. Persistence pays.”

Kaul received financial and research methodology support from the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation through WCHRI.