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Seminar Series



PWHR’s 2023-2024 Research Seminar Series: Improving Women’s Healthcare Through Research

The 2023-2024 PWHR Women’s Health Research Seminar Series will explore research that is driving advances in healthcare for women, trans and non-binary people. Whether they are working at the bench to advance basic science, at the bedside, or with the broader health, social, and economic policies and systems that shape individual and population health, a fundamental goal of women’s health researchers is to improve healthcare. This seminar series highlights how researchers from across Canada are realizing PWHR’s vision of “Better health for all women, trans and non-binary people through research equity, excellence, and inclusion.”



CHAIR: Dr. Ibukun Abejirinde

A trained physician, with a PhD in global health, Dr. Abejirinde is an implementation and evaluation scientist whose work focuses on innovative, digitally enabled models of healthcare, specifically as it concerns their implications for health equity and health system strengthening. Her research applies a trans-disciplinary approach that is anchored in community/patient partnerships and lies at the nexus of systems thinking, theory-driven inquiry and implementation science. By answering questions on “what works, for whom, in which contexts, how and why?” Dr. Abejirinde’s research program focuses on understanding and enabling the role of digital technologies in the ecosystem of health system strengthening in Canada and in low- and middle-income countries. Leveraging her networks and expertise in global health, she collaborates with colleagues and organisations from diverse spheres of influence to push the boundaries of research and learning on digital health systems.

Dr. Carla Prado

Dr. Carla Prado is a Professor at the University of Alberta, and a Campus Alberta Innovates (CAIP) Chair in Nutrition, Food and Health. She is the Director of the Human Nutrition Research Unit, one of the top research and training facilities for body composition and energy metabolism assessments worldwide. Carla is an expert in assessing nutritional status through the precise measurement of body composition and energy metabolism. She is an Associate Editor of three top journals in her field and a member of several international guideline groups. Dr. Prado is a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, and a member of the Royal Society of Canada College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists – these are two of the highest academic honors in her country. She has also been acknowledged in the list of Most Powerful Women in Canada: Top 100.

Dr. Gina Ogilvie

Dr. Ogilvie is a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Global Control of HPV related diseases and prevention. She is also Senior Public Health Scientist at BC Centre for Disease Control and Senior Research Advisor at the BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre. Dr. Ogilvie is principal investigator on over 5 million dollars in research grants and has received funding from PHAC, CIHR, Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, Canadian Foundation for Innovation and private foundations.

Her research is focused on both the public health and clinical aspects of reproductive health, sexually transmitted infections, HPV screening and the HPV vaccine, and her findings have been highly influential` in setting and directing health policy both in Canada and globally. Among other research projects, she is principal investigator for the ASPIRE program. She has published over 130 peer reviewed manuscripts and has provided advice and consultation to national and global institutions.

Dr. Simone Vigod

Dr. Vigod is a leading expert in perinatal mood disorders and has conducted some of the largest studies worldwide on maternal mental illness around the time of pregnancy. Mental illness at this life stage poses unique risks to mothers and their children at a critical juncture in both of their lives. Dr. Vigod’s research is helping raise awareness about gaps in access to specialized perinatal mental healthcare, as well as identifying vulnerable populations where these gaps are most prominent. Working with a multidisciplinary network of research, content experts, front-line workers and women with lived experience, Dr. Vigod is leveraging digital technologies to achieve this goal by optimizing maternal mental healthcare delivery. One of these interventions, Mother Matters, a therapist-facilitated online postpartum mental health support group has already been implemented across Ontario. Dr. Vigod’s research has also provided valuable insight into balancing the importance of maternal mental health and the risk of medication to the fetus. She’s also developed an online patient decision aid to help women make choices about antidepressant use in pregnancy that is now being evaluated in the United Kingdom.

Date: March 1, 2024


Dr. Hélène Côté, Ph.D., Professor, University of British Columbia & WHRI
Topic: The BCC3 experience with community-engaged research on healthy aging in women living with HIV

Biography: Hélène Côté holds a PhD in Biochemistry and is a Professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of British Columbia. She is also a member of the Women’s Health Research Institute, the Centre for Blood Research and the Edwin S.H. Leong Centre for Healthy Aging. Her research focuses on the effect of HIV and antiretroviral therapy on aging using both human cohort studies and in vitro models.

Dr. Dana Ross, M.D., Assistant Professor, University of Toronto & WCRI

Topic: Transforming healthcare through asynchronous trauma-informed care (TIC) education

Biography: Dana Ross, MD, MSc, FRCPC is a psychiatrist and clinician-educator in the Trauma Therapy Program at Women’s College Hospital and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto (U of T). She completed an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Neuroscience, after which she attend medical school in Calgary and completed her psychiatry residency at the U of T. She is leading two research projects that will expand access to treatment for complex trauma in Ontario and another project on providing virtual education on trauma-informed care. Dr. Ross recently graduated from the Master Educator program offered through the Association for Academic Psychiatry and graduated in 2022 from the Education Scholars Program through the Centre for Faculty Development at the U of T. In her clinical practice, she provides trauma-focused group psychotherapy to adults who have experienced childhood interpersonal trauma. She is passionate about healthcare innovation, virtual healthcare solutions, and relationship-centered care. As a First Nations physician, Dr. Ross is a mentor through the Diversity Mentorship Program at the U of T, and an advocate for trauma-informed care. 

Date: January 24, 2024


Dr. Allana Munro, BSc Pharm, M.D., FRCPC, Anesthesiologist, IWK Health, Associate Professor, Dalhousie University

Topic: A novel approach to optimizing labour analgesia using Programmed Intermittent Epidural Bolus (PIEB)

Summary: Programmed intermittent epidural bolus (PIEB) is a relatively new method of maintaining epidural labour analgesia. PIEB, when compared with the standard continuous epidural infusion (CEI), has the potential advantage of greater spread within the epidural space and better sensory blockade. Studies have demonstrated a local anesthetic-sparing effect, less instrumental vaginal deliveries, decreased motor blockade, and improved maternal satisfaction with PIEB compared with CEI. However, the optimal PIEB regimen and pump settings remain unknown. The PIEB bolus size and interval as well as the PIEB start time delay period can influence the efficacy of PIEB used for epidural labour analgesia. This presentation will summarizes the role of PIEB for the maintenance of labour analgesia, provide evidence that PIEB maintains epidural labour analgesia more effectively than continuous epidural infusions and discuss current knowledge regarding PIEB impact on obstetric outcomes. A review of the research available to suggests optimal settings will be provided, including a novel approach using Response Surface Methodology. Limitations and future strategies to optimize utilization will be suggested.

Biography: Dr. Munro completed Medical School and Anesthesia training at Dalhousie university and went on to attain a IWK Women’s and Obstetric Anesthesia Clinical / Research Fellowship in 2015. She joined the IWK Women’s and Obstetric Department of Anesthesia as an anesthesiologist in 2016 and competed additional training in chronic pain. She is currently an Associate Professor at Dalhousie University and Associate Medical Director of Research in the Department of Anesthesia, Pain Management & Perioperative Medicine in Halifax, NS. Her current research program is focuses on improving labour analgesia, the relationship between labour analgesia and postpartum psychiatric disorders and the experiences and impacts of Women’s Chronic Pelvic Pain.  

Recommended Readings:

1) Programmed intermittent epidural bolus in parturients: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

2) A retrospective cohort comparison of programmed intermittent epidural bolus (PIEB) and continued epidural infusion (CEI) on delivery mode

3) Programmed intermittent epidural boluses (PIEB) for maintenance of labor analgesia: A superior technique and easy to implement

4) Implementation of programmed intermittent epidural bolus for the maintenance of labor analgesia

Dr. Erin Kelly, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Alberta & WCHRI

Topic: An integrative approach to chronic pelvic pain care

Summary: An integrative and multidisciplinary approach to the management of chronic pelvic pain (CPP), with a focus on the bio-psycho-social model —- Our current research projects include: 1) Systematic review of pelvic floor trigger point injections for the management of CPP. 2) A survey cannabis use for analgesia in women with chronic pelvic pain. 3) Patient and health care providers experience and perspective of a hypnosis-based program within a multidisciplinary care model for chronic pelvic pain. 4) Mindfulness Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the management of vulvodynia and myofascial pelvic pain. 5) Chronic hip injuries in women and their implications for chronic pelvic pain.

Biography: Dr. Erin Kelly is a Urogynecologist at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Alberta. She is also the Fellowship Program Director for the Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery program, and a member of the Health Research Ethics Board – Biomedical Panel at the University of Alberta. Dr. Kelly completed residency and fellowship in FPMRS at Western University. In addition to a full-time academic practice in Urogynecology, Dr. Kelly also provides care through the Chronic Pelvic Pain program at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women. She is an active clinical researcher and her research interests include chronic pelvic pain management, patient education and quality improvement.

Recommended Readings:
1) Calling for openness to the study of cannabis use in chronic pelvic pain

2) A review of chronic pelvic pain in women-reply

3) The efficacy of botulinum toxin a injections in pelvic floor muscles in chronic pelvic pain patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis

4) Psychological treatments for provoked vestibulodynia: Integration of mindfulness-based and cognitive behavioral therapies

Dr. Luis Nacul, M.D. & Ph.D., Director of the Complex Chronic Diseases Program, BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre & WHRI

Topic: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and other complex chronic diseases: Advances in diagnosis and treatment

Biography: Researcher (PhD) and clinician (MD) with dual specialty in general practice and public health, Dr Luis Nacul has been researching ME/CFS internationally, and practicing as a general physician and in the field of ME/CFS and other complex chronic diseases. He is the Director of Complex Chronic Diseases Program (CCDP) Research Group in Canada, and has been the co-founder and Director of CureME Research Programme at the Clinical Research Department, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK. He is Clinical Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia and LSHTM. Dr Nacul has worked in in Brazil, UK and Canada, where he had served as medical director for CCDP for nearly 4 years. In addition to clinical and research work, with emphasis on chronic and disabling diseases, he has contributed to teaching and supervision of doctors and researchers. He is a Board Member of the International Association of ME/CFS, and has contributed to various committees in the field of ME/CFS, such as EUROMENE, NICE Guidelines development committee on ME/CFS, ICanCME (as network executive) and UK ME/CFS Biobank Steering Committee.

Dr. Rachael Bosma, Ph.D., Co-Director, University of Toronto Centre for the Study of Pain & Research Lead, Women’s College Hospital

Topic: Rapid access to care for people living with pain: Creation and implementation of the Power Over Pain portal

Summary: Pain is ubiquitous to many medical conditions. Chronic pain affects ~8 million people living in Canada, and this number is anticipated to rise 17.5% by 2030. Many pain patients facing wait-times of up to 2 years or more for clinician consultation leading to a deterioration in functioning, and quality of life. Although we know that certain populations bear more of the burden, particularly vulnerable sectors such as women, elderly, Indigenous Peoples, and certain ethnic minorities, access to pain care and resources is not equitably distributed. Power Over Pain is a direct response to calls from patients for better access to pain care. Power over Pain is a virtual portal co-designed by a diverse group of researchers, clinicians, and people living with chronic pain to provide rapid access to evidence-based virtual stepped care interventions for chronic pain across the lifespan. In this presentation, Dr. Bosma will provide an overview of the Power over Pain portal, outlining the different components of participant registration, self-assessment tools, and evidence-based virtual chronic pain interventions. She will also describe the development process and partnerships that were cultivated to bring together and integrate the plethora of evidence-based interventions that live on the portal. Furthermore, she will share the results of pilot implementation in different settings and highlight lessons learned to support improved pain care across our health systems. Finally, she will raise future opportunities for research and will share resources for implementation into clinical practice.

Biography: Dr. Bosma is an Assistant Professor (status) of Pain and Neuroscience in the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Toronto and is the Co-director of the University of Toronto Centre for the Study of Pain.  Her research program is embedded in the Toronto Academic Pain Medicine Institute at Women’s College Hospital where she trials innovative solutions in virtual healthcare interventions with a focus on women’s health. Dr. Bosma is an early career investigator who has received ~$13-million (~$10-million as a co-PI) in funding and has published ~ 30 peer reviewed manuscripts. Dr. Bosma is co-leading the Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research, National Training Entity (SPOR NTE) which serves as a central body for POR training and mentoring across Canada and also serves as an executive member and is the co-chair of the Research and Evaluation Committee at the level of the Ontario Ministry of Health Chronic Pain Network.

Recommended Readings:

1) Experience-based design: Empowering individuals while they wait for interprofessional chronic pain care

2) Researching what matters to improve chronic pain care in Canada: A priority-setting partnership process to support patient-oriented research

Date: November 21, 2023


Dr. Cheng-Han Lee, M.D. & Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Alberta & WCHRI
Topic: Dedifferentiated and sarcomatous mullerian cancer – development of precision preclinical models to facilitate precision oncology

Summary: Cancer frequently displays cellular differentiation that recapitulates the tissue type it originates from, and across different organs, there is a remarkably consistent association with the degree of differentiation and the aggressiveness of the tumor. In the most extreme forms, a cancer can become completely undifferentiated such that it retains minimal to no phenotypic evidence of epithelial differentiation (dedifferentiated/undifferentiated carcinoma) or a cancer can transdifferentiate across from epithelial to mesenchymal cellular lineage (carcinosarcoma/sarcomatous carcinoma).  Dedifferentiated/undifferentiated endometrial/ovarian cancer exemplifies such a phenomenon. Secondary to genomic inactivation of core SWI/SNF complex protein and epigenetic shift, a well differentiated clinically favorable endometrioid-type cancer transforms/dedifferentiates into a highly aggressive undifferentiated cancer. Mullerian carcinosarcoma occurs when a TP53-mutated high-grade mullerian cancer undergoes sarcomatous transformation and a significant subset of these tumors carry genomically hardwired amplification involving receptor tyrosine kinases. We will discuss these improved molecular understandings and how they led us to develop patient tumor-derived precision preclinical models to facilitate therapeutic development in these aggressive types of gynecologic cancer.   

Biography: Dr. Lee is an associate professor at the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology and is the current Sawin-Baldwin Chair in Ovarian Cancer Research at the University of Alberta. Dr. Lee received his MD-PhD degree and Anatomic Pathology residency training from UBC. The current research focus of his laboratory is on the genetics and biology of aggressive gynecologic cancer, and he has applied various next generation sequencing methods and high-throughput assays to gain novel insights into these tumors, including the most aggressive subtypes of uterine cancer such as dedifferentiated endometrial cancer and carcinosarcoma. Dr. Lee currently has over 160 peer-reviewed publications and a number of book chapters, including chapters in the latest WHO classification of female genital tumors. Clinically, he is a consultant pathologist at Royal Alexandra Hospital with a diagnostic focus on gynecologic oncology/pathology. 

Recommended Readings:

1) Establishment and validation of preclinical models of SMARCA4-inactivated and ARID1A/ARID1B co-inactivated dedifferentiated endometrial carcinoma

2) SWI/SNF-deficiency defines highly aggressive undifferentiated endometrial carcinoma

Dr. Jessica Dennis, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia & WHRI
Topic: Genetic risk for major depressive disorder and loneliness in sex-specific associations with coronary artery disease

Summary: In this presentation, Dr. Dennis will discuss how the subjective feeling of loneliness is affected by genetics. Dr. Dennis will talk about how we used large-scale biobanks to: 1) conduct a genome-wide association scan of loneliness; and 2) to identify associations between polygenic risk for loneliness and cardiovascular disease, an association that was stronger in females than in males.  Moreover, although loneliness and depression often co-occur in individuals, we found that the genetic variants that predisposed people to feel lonely uniquely increased the risk of cardiovascular disease, while those that predisposed people to feel depressed did not. Dr. Dennis will also present follow-up work on the genetic contribution to sex differences in trajectories of depressive symptoms in Canadian adults as they age, using data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging.

Biography: Dr. Jessica Dennis is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of British Columbia, and an Investigator at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute. A genetic epidemiologist by training, Dr. Dennis applies computational methods to large-scale genomic and population health data to identify the basis of human health and disease. She uses a life-course perspective to understand how genes and environment contribute from conception onwards to variation in disease susceptibility, response to treatment, and recovery, so that we may develop precision, patient-centered care. A primary goal of her research is to elucidate the biological mechanisms underlying psychiatric conditions, which vary considerably in their manifestation across the life course, and across males and females. Dr. Dennis completed postdoctoral training at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. She holds a PhD from the University of Toronto, where she was a fellow in the interdisciplinary CIHR-STAGE Program (Canadian Institutes of Health Research Strategic Training for Advanced Genetic Epidemiology).

Recommended Readings:

1) Genetic risk for major depressive disorder and loneliness in sex-specific associations with coronary artery disease

2) Cohort Profile: The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA)

Dr. Mohammad R. Akbari, M.D.& Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Toronto & WCRI
Topic: Population-based screening for hereditary breast and ovarian cancers

Summary: Currently, there are three major clinical gaps in offering genetic testing for hereditary breast and ovarian cancers: 1) It is usually offered to patients after they have been diagnosed with cancer; 2) It is often offered to patients when their treatment has been completed and the test results cannot be used for their treatment; 3) It is not offered to all individuals who are at risk for hereditary cancer. The long-term solution for addressing all these gaps is to have a universal population-based genetic test for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer screening.

Biography: Dr. Akbari is an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto (U of T), and a scientist at Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI), Women’s College Hospital (WCH). He is also an adjunct faculty member at Institute of Medical Science, faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto and the director of the Molecular Genetics Research Laboratory at Women’s College Hospital. Dr. Akbari’s research interest is in studying genetic susceptibility to cancers, including breast, ovarian, esophageal, colon, pancreas and prostate cancers. This includes identifying new genes responsible for hereditary cancers, defining the role of known cancer genes, and individualizing cancer treatments for patients carrying a genetic mutation. One of his most recent works published in American Journal of Human Genetics identified ATRIP as a novel breast cancer susceptibility gene. Another key focus of his research program is to incorporate our current knowledge of cancer genetics into population strategies for reducing cancer burden by improving the current models of offering genetic screening for hereditary cancers. The Screen Project co-led by Dr. Akbari studies the feasibility of population-based screening for hereditary breast and ovarian cancers in Canada

Recommended Readings:

1) Coming of age in Canada: A study of population-based genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer

2) Genetic testing for all: Overcoming disparities in ovarian cancer genetic testing

3) The Screen Project: Guided direct-to-consumer genetic testing for breast cancer susceptibility in Canada

Date: September 19, 2023

Free registration via EVENTBRITE

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Alison Bourgon, Director General of Science Policy, Canadian Institutes of Health Research
Laurie Smith, Program Manager, Global Control of HPV Related Diseases and Cancer Research
Program, Women’s Health Research Institute
Dr. Carolyn Nakisige, Gynecologist, Uganda Cancer Institute
Dr. Richard Oster, Scientific Director of the Indigenous Wellness Core, Alberta Health Services
Denise Young, Research Assistant, Maskwacis Maternal, Child & Family Wellbeing Research
September 22, 2022

Opening Remarks 
Ms. Jenna Sudds, M.P.,Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth. 
Working with health and social service providers to improve supports for transgender survivors of sexual assault in Ontario
Dr. Janice Du Mont, Senior Scientist, Women’s College Research Institute and Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto
Ms. Sheila Macdonald, Provincial Director, Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Care and Treatment Centres
#postbabyhankypanky: A knowledge sharing initiative to promote the sexual health of new parents
Dr. Natalie Rosen, Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Neuroscience and Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Dalhousie University, Halifax
November 23, 2022

Elder Valerie Nicholson
Opening Remarks
Dr. Angela Kaida, PhD, Scientific Director, Institute of Gender and Health, CIHR and Distinguished Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University
Canada’s Sexual Health Survey—from idea to implementation
Dr. Wendy V. Norman, MD, CCFP, FCFP, DTM&H, MHSc, Professor, Department of Family Practice, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia and Co-Director, Canada’s Contraception and Abortion Research Team (CART-GRAC).
Obstetrical Anal Sphincter Injury and the pathway to care
Dr. Jane Schulz, MD, FRCSC, Professor and Chair, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Lois Hole Hospital for Women, University of Alberta and Alberta Women’s Health Foundation Endowed Research Chair
Addressing windows of opportunity to identify and prevent diabetes in women
Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe, MD, MSC, FRCPC, Senior Scientist, Women’s College Research Institute, Professor, Department of Medicine and Director, Novo Nordisk Network for Healthy Populations, University of Toronto
January 26, 2023

Reproductive Justice in Digital Life
Joanna Erdman, JD, LLM, Professor, MacBain Chair in Health Law and Policy, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University
What matters most to people seeking an abortion in Canada? Lessons learned from the development of a decision aid
Dr. Melissa Brooks, MD, FRSC, Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University
Dr. Sarah Munro, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia and Co-Director, Canada’s Contraception and Abortion Research Team (CART-GRAC)
Innovation is Vital(a): Opportunities and challenges of co-created digital platforms for SMA in Humanitarian Settings
Dr. Roopan Gill, MD, MPH, FRCSC, Executive Director and Co-Founder, Vitala Global and Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto
March 1, 2023

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