Beyond the Binary in BC: Taking a patient-oriented and trauma-informed approach to building partnerships and dialogue to incorporate gender equity into women’s health research

Dedicated women’s health research is a relatively recent milestone. Available guidance for including trans and intersex people in this work has not acknowledged the social, historical and political contexts that led to naming cisgender women (women whose gender aligns with their sex assigned at birth) in research, and tends to be focused either on clinical work (e.g. how to refer to patients and their anatomy) or on data collection (e.g. how to ask about sex and gender).

“Beyond the Binary” will include a survey to assess current gender-equity initiatives in BC, two educational workshops, and two knowledge exchange events to inform guidance for gender-equitable practice within BC’s women’s health research community. To co-create safe, trauma-informed, and patient-oriented guidance, trans and intersex people will be invited to participate in these activities and to participate on a Community Steering Committee. Through collaboration with people from trans, intersex, research, health, ethics, and academic communities, we aim to develop context-specific guidance, resources, and recommendations for researchers and health decision-makers to bridge this knowledge gap.


Team members: Beverley Pomeroy (Fraser Health); Laurel Evans (UBC); Caroline Sanders (University of Northern British Columbia); Ann Pederson (BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre); Michelle Chan (UBC); Tamara Baldwin (UBC); Lindsay Carpenter (University of Northern British Columbia); Faith Jabs (UBC); Skye Barbic (UBC); Julia Santana Parrila (Women’s Health Research Institute); Nicole Prestley-Stuart (Women’s Health Research Institute); Lorraine Greaves (Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health); Lori Brotto (UBC); Wendy Robinson (BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute); Melissa Nelson (Women’s Health Research Institute); AJ Murray (BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre)

The role of senior centres in promoting the health and wellbeing of older adults: Co-developing a research agenda with Vancouver senior centres

As our population ages and generational shifts occur, the health and social needs of older British Columbians are changing. Senior centres play an important role in providing health promotion, social services, and recreational activities that enhance the health and wellbeing of community-dwelling older adults. Despite the important roles senior centres can play in the lives of older adults, to date there has been limited research on senior centres and the impacts of their programs and services on older adults. The purpose of this project is to host four workshops for stakeholders from Vancouver senior centres (staff, board members, and senior centre members) to co-develop an agenda for future research. The workshops will provide an opportunity to learn more about stakeholders’ perspectives about the current challenges, opportunities, emerging trends, and roles for senior centres in supporting the health and wellbeing of older adults. Based on the workshops, a workshop report will be created as a well as a research agenda for future research on senior centres.


Team members: Anthony Kupferschmidt (West End Seniors’ Network); Leslie Remund (411 Seniors Centre Society); Douglas Dunn (South Granville Seniors Centre); Laura Kadowaki (Simon Fraser University)

Structural exploration of locked nucleic acids (LNAs) for incorporation into anticancer oligonucleotides

Antisense oligonucleotides (AON) are short lengths of RNA or DNA molecules which are used to change gene expression to treat diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s disease. Like DNA, AONs are made up of chains of nucleotide units, but to make them useful as drugs, these nucleotides have to be structurally changed. Locked nucleic acids (LNAs) are a very useful type of altered nucleotide unit, since they are not broken down as quickly in the body, and attach strongly to the gene they are targeting. The problem with LNAs is that they are very difficult to make, so it is hard for chemists to make a lot of different changes to the structure of LNAs in order to find the best one to use in AONs.
The Britton research team recently discovered a new way to make LNAs very quickly and easily, in large amounts, from simple compounds. Using this new technology, we want to make a large number of structurally unique LNAs and, test them to find the best ones to use in AONs for the treatment of cancer.

Healing indicators: Developing community-based Indigenous health assessment

Healing Indicators is a project that aims to improve health policy and assessment processes by creating tools that centre communities and Indigenous knowledge. The work is in response to the need to better assess the health impacts of resource development in Indigenous communities. This project is in partnership with the British Columbia First Nations Health Authority and Simon Fraser University, and is deeply committed to engaging in Indigenous methodologies, land-based health and healing, and health justice. It features an approach that strives to decolonize public health: the research approach is integrated, connecting land-based perspectives on health and wellness, and cultural foundations into population health reporting.

The question this research asks, is “What principles and processes are needed to create and develop indicators relevant to First Nations in relation to resource development and related policy?” Research will help support Indigenous health assessments through the collaborative creation of land-based healing indicators, that prioritize Indigenous perspectives and needs through community-based research. A goal of this work is to undertake culturally safe research in an applied health sciences context.

Examination of Long QT Syndrome causing variants in induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes to evaluate novel therapeutic treatments

The rhythmic beating of the heart requires coordinated electrical activity that causes the heart to contract and relax. The electrical activity is controlled by proteins in the membranes of heart cells that form ion channels. Failure of channels to work properly is associated with abnormal heart rhythm, heart attack and sudden death. Long QT Syndrome (LQTS) is a condition that affects 1:2000 people and often results from inherited mutations in one of the heart channels. However, determining whether a mutation will cause the individual serious heart problems is still a major challenge. By using cutting edge technology, like induced pluripotent stem cells and CRISPR, we can recreate patient mutations in cells in the lab and turn them into beating heart cells. Specific techniques can be used to look at individual heart cells, as well as heart cells in a layer that beat together. The properties of the cells can be measured so that the effects of the mutations can be understood, and so that newer specific drugs can be tested to see if they are effective against different mutation types. The results from this research will help inform clinicians on how to better help patients with LQTS and potentially identify new, better treatments.

Effect of age-related spinal degeneration on older adult spinal cord injuries

Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) are becoming more prevalent in older adults, and the number of older adults is rapidly increasing. This is a challenge for healthcare professionals because the existing health issues and poor health of older adults may limit invasive surgical treatments. The most common form of SCI seen in older adults is caused by the neck extending beyond its typical range, damaging the spinal cord in a pattern that is different pattern than what is seen in younger adults. It is known that the risk of spinal cord injury and observed tissue damage is worsened by age-related degeneration in the spine; however, there is limited understanding of how these degenerative changes alter tissue damage caused by an SCI. The proposed study will consist of three objectives: (1) to measure the type and amount of degeneration typically found in older adults, (2) to simulate the spinal cord injury and use it to predict how tissue will be damaged (3) to predict how the tissue damage changes when the model includes spinal degeneration.

Investigating the role of sleep disruption in the progressive memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and a leading cause of death in Canada. Unfortunately, there are currently limited treatments available for this devastating disease. Recently sleep has been shown to regulate important aspects of Alzheimer’s disease pathology and is emerging as a promising target for novel interventions to prevent and slow disease progression.

To identify how changes in sleep and the body’s biological clock contribute to the cognitive deficits associated with Alzheimer’s disease, we will conduct a combination of preclinical experiments to evaluate causal mechanisms and clinical studies to evaluate the same processes in patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The ultimate goal is to determine whether treating specific aspects of sleep disruption is an effective therapy for Alzheimer’s disease, which will help identify new treatments to prevent the progressive memory loss, improve the health and quality of life of patients and their families, and reduce the economic burden of the disease.

Exploring mechanisms, pathways, and mitigation strategies to prevent loneliness, social isolation, and their deleterious health impacts

We experience hunger so we eat, thirst so we drink, tiredness so we sleep, and loneliness so we find social connection. Social needs are fundamental to humans and when we are lonely the body’s central stress response system is dysregulated. As a result, our capacity to manage stress, inflammation, and energy reserves is reduced. The end result: lonely people live shorter and sicker lives.

In the wake of COVID-19, which itself manifested in an era of already increasing social isolation, it has never been more important to study loneliness. Yet, while a robust literature base has examined loneliness in older adults, we still know very little about what we can do to respond to experiences of loneliness across the life-course. This is particularly true in marginalized populations, such as gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM), who are especially vulnerable to social exclusion and related stressors, but they also exhibit unique coping strategies that may buffer these effects.

My research will help us better understand the epidemiology of loneliness among gbMSM in order to prevent its deleterious effects on these individuals, their communities, and the broader population in the wake of COVID-19.

Informing the future of primary care: Virtual care, workforce optimization and the learning health system

Primary care is the foundation of strong health systems, ensuring people stay healthy and get care when needed. However, timely access to high-quality primary care is an ongoing problem in British Columbia and other provinces.

My program of research aims to ensure that all British Columbians can access quality primary care how and when they need it. The central project I lead uses information from interviews with health professionals (physicians, nurse practitioners and nurses) and patients; data from the health system; and provincial policy documents to study access to, experiences with, and outcomes from virtual primary care. Complementary research will inform modernization of the primary care workforce and informing ideal deployment of providers in team-based models in the context of COVID-19 and beyond. Finally, I lead work about implementation of “learning health systems” to support continuous improvement and innovation in primary care and across the health system more broadly.

My work follows an integrated knowledge translation model; I work with a team of researchers, policy makers, clinicians and patient partners to co-produce knowledge and address important and relevant questions that are driven by their combined input.

Organelle signalling in stem cell identity specification

Stem cells offer tremendous potential for tissue regeneration and uncovering causes and treatments for many human diseases. Technologies developed over the past decade now allow us to grow human stem cells in the lab and manipulate them to carry disease-causing gene mutations and turn them into any cell type of interest. My lab’s research uses these powerful tools to identify important regulators of stem cell function, particularly as they develop into cell types relevant to brain disorders. We focus on identifying the biological processes that build our brains, and biomarkers and treatment approaches for diseases.

Though the genes that regulate stem cell function are fairly well know, the impact of cell organelles, which coordinate many biological functions and are potential targets for treatment, is poorly understood. My lab is working to bridge this gap by investigating the impact of vesicle-like organelles called lysosomes on brain stem cells. Our data suggests lysosomes are critical regulators of stem cell function and brain development. Given new imaging-based tools and clinically approved lysosome-targeted drugs, studying the role of lysosomes can transform our potential to understand, diagnose, and treat brain disease.