Oriana Shaw

Supervisor: Jerome Yager

Project: Iron deficiency and stroke in infants and children with heart defects


Edmonton, AB

Degree program:

Doctor of Medicine

Why did you choose this program?

Although I was always intrigued by medical research, I did not grow up intending to be a doctor. I sought out varied opportunities that interested me including positions related to science communication, education, child welfare, sports, the legal system and research. I worked with a range of populations, including people with disabilities, families that had experienced trauma and Indigenous youth. Over time I became increasingly interested in the social, political and cultural context in which research occurs. I also realized how much I enjoyed working directly with people. One of my research supervisors suggested that I look into pursuing medicine as it would allow me to unite my passions for research, the broader societal context and working directly with people.

What did you get to work on throughout your studentship?

I did an extensive literature review of multiple topics related to in utero cerebral palsy prevention. Based on this, I wrote a chapter for the upcoming textbook, Neurodevelopmental pediatrics: Genetic and environmental influences. I mentored and collaborated with a new summer student in the lab on this chapter. Although I have done academic writing before, it has been for journals where the audience often has a certain level of expertise. It was an interesting challenge to learn how to alter the writing style, graphics and approach for a broader audience of learners at various stages of their education. As well, I continued work on a clinical project that I began last year about quality of life in adults who experienced strokes as children.

What's been the best part of your experience so far?

It has been fantastic to have been able to collaborate with and help guide a new student in the lab on several projects this summer. Not only did our frequent online meetings and calls help alleviate the feelings of isolation that I, like many others, have felt being at home for months during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it also highlighted how much collaboration informs my research. Before the pandemic, collaboration happened so naturally, even in forms as simple as conversations over lunch or casual questions when working near each other in the lab. This summer, collaboration has become much more intentional and obvious, so I have become far more conscious of the value it brings.

What interested you in the summer studentship program?

I am passionate about women and children's health, and health equity. I am thankful that a hub like WCHRI exists to support and cultivate these passions. I was lucky enough to have previously received a WCHRI Summer Studentship, and I had quite a positive experience with it. WCHRI provides valuable support, guidance and opportunities to summer students. I was honoured to have been able to leverage this opportunity a second time, with a different type of project that further expanded my experience as a young researcher.

What has the support from WCHRI and the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation meant to you?

At a time when many people are experiencing great uncertainty, I have valued this opportunity to continue to conduct research on a topic that I care deeply about: women and children's health. This summer, I learned about adaptability in extraordinary times, and I was able to take on more of a leadership role within the lab. These experiences will help me be a better physician and researcher. I greatly appreciate the consistent support that these organizations have provided throughout this process to make this possible.

Lay abstract:

There is a small body of research that suggests a potential link between iron deficiency and the occurrence of stroke in infants and children. My supervisor, Dr. Jerome Yager, has published on this topic and anecdotally observed this among his patients, particularly within the population of infants and children with heart defects. Stroke is well recognized to contribute to the overall developmental challenges and death rate of children with heart defects.

This analysis of existing medical records will explore the relationship between iron levels and stroke in infants and children with a specific category of heart conditions. These heart conditions exist at birth and result in a lack of oxygen in the blood circulating through the infant's body. Although children with these conditions are at greater risk of developing stroke than the general pediatric population, there has been little exploration of their iron status. Iron status is often overlooked and, in most cases, not assessed in children. However, several measurements on a generic blood test can be highly suggestive of iron levels.

We hypothesize that stroke occurrence will be higher in infants and children with these heart defects who have blood tests suggestive of iron deficiency, compared to those whose blood tests are not suggestive of iron deficiency. If this is the case, it would support the need for a study that would provide iron supplementation to infants and children with heart defects to potentially reduce their stroke risk, and overall incidence of stroke.