Improving clinical practice guidelines for antenatal corticosteroids: Incorporating a decision support tool to impact clinical counselling

Antenatal corticosteroids are a medication given to women who are at risk of an early delivery to reduce the chance of breathing problems for their baby after birth. Current guidelines recommend giving antenatal corticosteroids to pregnant women who might have their baby before 34 weeks of pregnancy. This medication may also help those at risk of an early delivery at 34-36 weeks of pregnancy but the balance between the benefits and harms of this treatment is less clear at these ages. Guidelines for giving this medication at 34-36 weeks of pregnancy are also unclear, making it difficult for doctors and patients to decide whether to use it. We will find out if including a decision support tool in clinical guidelines will improve how doctors discuss antenatal corticosteroids with patients at 34-36 weeks of pregnancy. We will ask patients whether they had better discussions with their doctor about this treatment after their doctor had access to the decision support tool within the clinical guideline, and we will ask doctors how this decision support tool impacted their counselling. This project could improve communication between doctors and patients, especially when it is unclear whether a treatment’s benefits outweigh its harms.

Advanced pulmonary diagnostics in paediatric respiratory medicine: From technical development to clinical implementation

Chronic lung diseases present a serious health challenge for Canadian children and youth. For example, cystic fibrosis (CF) shortens life expectancy and carries an enormous treatment cost (>$250,000 per person per year). Another example is asthma, which affects nearly 1 in 7 Canadians under age 20. Improving the lives of people with these conditions is possible but requires accurate detection and close monitoring of their lung disease.

Unfortunately, the tests available to paediatric respiratory physicians are often difficult for children to perform and not sensitive enough to detect or subtle disease. This significantly limits physicians’ ability to detect, treat and monitor lung disease in children and must change.

My research program focuses on the development of easy-to-perform and sensitive tools to help physicians diagnose and monitor lung disease in children. Specifically, I am an expert in techniques known as hyperpolarised xenon lung MRI (XeMRI) and multiple breath washout testing (MBW).

During tenure of this Health Professional-Investigator award, I will lead research focused on improving the XeMRI and MBW techniques and using these new tools clinically to improve the health of children with lung diseases.

Outdoor early childhood education summit: Pathways to licensing in BC

Research on outdoor early childhood education (ECE) indicates vast benefits to children’s health, development, and learning. Further, outdoor ECE helps solve challenges related to provision of universal childcare and managing COVID-19 transmission. It enables an equitable childcare solution that embraces land-based learning and Indigenous ways of being. Yet BC licenses only indoor facility-based care. We will plan a summit aiming to bring together researchers and research users, including practitioners, licensing officers and policymakers from the BC Government, health authorities, and Indigenous communities to collectively identify priorities to support a pathway to licensing outdoor ECE in BC. Key outcomes will include: 1) To embrace elements of nature-based education — in particular, those having to do with risky play and land-based learning; 2) To identify key research and practice priorities collectively to enable legislative changes for regulating outdoor ECE programs; 3) To co-create products that support KT of summit outcomes for outreach to diverse groups; 4) To strengthen relationships and partnerships among key stakeholders to facilitate collaboration beyond the proposed summit.

Team members: Shelley McClure (Northern Lights College); Rachel Ramsden (UBC); Iris Berger (UBC); Enid Elliot (Camosun College, Early Learning and Care); Glynnis Schwan (Island Health and Community Care Facilities Licensing); Lily Patzer (Aboriginal Head Start Association of BC); Belva Stone (Muddy Boot Prints Outdoor Learning Program); Hartley Banack (UNBC); Kailee Hirsche (UBC)

Creating a partnership for obstetrical health services research in BC

Childbirth is the most common reason for a hospital visit in BC, accounting for 1 in 10 hospital visits. To make sure that pregnant women receive the best care possible, we need to evaluate how the way in which we provide care — our obstetrical policies and practices — affects the health of women and newborns.

BC has all the building blocks needed for world-class obstetrical care research — including a large database with detailed pregnancy records, university experts in policy analysis, and a single academic department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. However, we have no mechanism for bringing these assets together.

This award will catalyze the creation of a partnership that brings together BC’s expertise and resources for evaluating obstetrical care. Key outcomes are to:

  1. Establish procedures for a working partnership of researchers, health care providers, and patient partners interested in conducting research to improve obstetrical care in BC, learning from partnerships in other fields.
  2. Bring together partnership members to co-identify research priorities for improving obstetrical health care in BC.
  3. Give students an opportunity to engage with care providers, patient partners, and experienced researchers.

Team members: Jessica Liauw (UBC); Ellen Giesbrecht (Perinatal Services BC); Julie van Schalkwyk (BC Women’s Hospital); Ken Lim (BC Women’s Hospital); Chantal Mayer (PHSA); Jason Burrows (Surrey Memorial Hospital); Sheona Mitchell (University Hospital of Northern BC); Raz Moola (Kootenay Lake Hospital); Luc Beaudet (Cowichan District Hospital); Val Rychel (St. Paul’s Hospital); Gillian Hanley (UBC); Laura Schummers (UBC); Charles Litwin (UBC); Amy Hobbs (UBC); Kenny Der (Perinatal Services BC)

Collaborating with Indigenous northern communities to develop a SmartMom prenatal education texting program for teens

Teenage pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of poverty, mental health problems, and substance use. In the Northern Health Authority, rates of teen births are twice as high as elsewhere in BC. Prenatal education is known to reduce unhealthy pregnancy outcomes, but few women attend in the north and the number of teens that attend is unknown. As an alternative, we have developed a prenatal education program, (SmartMom), that delivers three SMS text messages each week related to participants’ week of pregnancy. Over one year, we will engage and convene partners in Northern Health to develop a supplemental stream of messages that is relevant and engaging for teen mothers. Through two information gathering meetings in each of several communities, we will develop content that is age-appropriate and appealing to young mothers. We will also develop a Youth Advisory Council to review our messaging and plan evaluation activities. We plan to monitor teen participation in the program and measure changes in knowledge, adoption of healthy behaviours and rates of adverse pregnancy outcomes. While the primary focus is not Indigenous health, we aim to ensure Indigenous teens and their unique lived experiences are considered in our program.

Team members: Randi Parsons (Northern Health); Shaina Pennington (UBC); Vanessa Salmons (Northern Health); Jennifer Murray (UBC)

Evaluating the safety, efficacy, effectiveness, and immunogenicity of meningococcal vaccines across the age spectrum

Meningitis is a serious inflammation of the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord, caused by viral or bacterial infections. One in ten people who develop meningitis will die, and 20% will experience serious, lifelong consequences, such as hearing loss or brain damage. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for full prevention and control of this disease by 2030. Our team is collaborating with the WHO to develop evidence-based immunization strategies for this initiative. My research project will pool data from all previous vaccine studies on meningococcal group B (MenB), to assess the safety and protective effect of different MenB vaccines. Our goal is to use that data to answer questions such as, “How safe current meningococcal group B vaccines are?”; “How long they can protect us from getting the disease?”, and “How many doses are needed and on which schedule?”. Findings from this research will guide WHO strategies on dosing and timing of vaccines, to eradicate meningitis by 2030.

Developing the next generation of therapeutic regulatory T cells using CRISPR/Cas9

The immune system is critical for fighting infections but left unchecked, can attack healthy tissues resulting in autoimmunity or transplant rejection. Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are the immune cells responsible for controlling immune responses, so Treg transfusions are being investigated as treatments for these conditions. Unlike immunosuppressive drugs, Tregs are customisable and can have long-lasting effects.

Tailoring Tregs to treat specific diseases typically involves genetically modifying the cells. One approach involves incorporating synthetic proteins called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) to help the Tregs migrate to where they are required in the body and specifically suppress harmful targets. I will build on this approach and explore the potential of using novel precise gene editing techniques (CRISPR) to maximise the survival and function of CAR Tregs following infusion.

This work will inform ongoing clinical studies that are investigating CAR Treg therapy in kidney transplantation, as well as future studies with other diseases. Fine-tuning personalised Treg therapy is key for its wide-scale implementation and potential to transform the life quality of autoimmune disease patients and transplant recipients.

Smart discharges to improve post-discharge survival in young infants following admission for infection

In many resource-limited countries, children who suffer from severe illness are at a high risk of dying in the six months after leaving the hospital. Most caregivers are unaware of this, although simple strategies like follow-up visits and healthy practices at home can improve survival. Our team has developed a tool that allows healthcare workers to identify children who are most at risk of dying after leaving the hospital. Healthcare workers can use this tool to identify the highest-risk children and plan follow-up visits, reducing the burden on families and the health system. The caregivers of all discharged children receive education on healthy practices and on the signs that their child needs follow-up care. In Uganda, our approach has saved the lives of children aged six months to five years old.

Here, we will confirm that this same approach can be used in a wider population. We will talk to families and healthcare workers to determine how best use this approach in different age groups and locations. We will work closely with our Ugandan partners to ensure improvements are long-lasting. Ultimately, we plan to work with our local partners to apply our approach and improve child health in remote communities across BC.

Patient-centered development of a research program on social robotics for pediatric anxiety


  • Nadeen Jaik-Robinson
    Patient partner

Team members:

  • Jill Dosso
  • Jaina Jaik-Robinson
    Community member
  • Alessandra DiGiacomo
  • Anna Riminchan
  • Katarzyna Kabacinska

Could a social robot — a small robotic character or pet — be helpful to children living with anxiety? For this project, we will work with children and families to imagine the future of robotics for children’s mental health and learn about what useful social robotics for children could look like in British Columbia. Studies have shown that children are highly receptive to potential robotic interventions and are likely to be accepting of them as tools to improve their health. However, social robots are often developed according to engineer- and expert-driven priorities, rather than in consultation with end-user families.

In the proposed work, we will hold a series of three workshops with families with a lived experience of childhood anxiety in order to identify the most pressing research questions when it comes to pediatric mental health and social robotics. We will also learn from these families what outcomes are most important to them. The overall goal of this work is to understand what would make a robotic intervention helpful and meaningful to families.

Treatment of Pediatric Mental Health Problems: Unravelling the Role of Patient and Family Motivation in Eating Disorder Outcomes

My goal is to improve treatment for children and youth with eating disorders (ages 8-24 years). Eating disorders typically develop during adolescence. Eating disorders can become lifelong, and cause permanent health problems and even death. Making sure that each child gets the right kind of treatment can lead to the best outcomes. But, current guidelines do not consider how to match a child to the best type of treatment.

Knowing about motivation to change in children and families can help clinicians match a child to the best treatment. People who are motivated to change recognize there is a problem and are willing to work on this problem. Higher motivation leads to better eating disorder treatment outcomes in adults. Yet, motivation is not well-studied in youth. In fact, youth are often brought to treatment by their parents. So, parents’ motivation to help their child may be one of the most important features to measure.  

This project will tell us how youth and family motivation affect eating disorder outcomes. It will also tell us how clinicians use information about motivation. At the end of the project, I will be able to update guidelines about how to match a child to the best treatment.