The exploration of genetic conditions affecting the health of aboriginal people

Canadian aboriginal people have shorter life spans and an increased burden of disease compared to their non-native Canadian counterparts. As in all populations, complex disease—both genetically and environmentally determined—plays a significant role. For example, among the Inuit of Baffin Island, the prevalence of one type of congenital heart defect is four times as high as in other populations.

Dr. Laura Arbour is exploring the genetic and environmental determinants of heart defects among the Inuit of Baffin Island. She will determine the contributing factors of genetics, intake of nutrients that are important in heart development (such as folate and vitamin A) and environmental exposures during pregnancy. She will also assess whether current public health efforts to reduce birth defects by fortifying flour with folic acid are sufficient for people in a northern environment. The goal of her research is to inform public health efforts aimed at prevention, early recognition of symptoms and timely treatment.