2015 Ontario Women’s Health Scholars: Bios

Postdoctoral Awards

Nafisa M. JadavjiNafisa M. Jadavji, Carleton University

Nafisa M. Jadavji is currently a Fonds de la recherché en santé Québec fellow and instructor at Carleton University. Her research focuses on understanding how dietary and genetic deficiencies in folate metabolism affect the course of stroke and neurodegeneration. Stroke results in reduced blood flow to the brain causing impaired function. Canadian women are significantly affected by stroke and the risk increases with age. In 2011 stroke was the third leading cause of death in Canadian women. Folates are important B-vitamins that affect cellular processes and the brain is particularly sensitive to any disturbances in these processes. Genetic deficiencies of critical enzymes involved in folate metabolism, such as methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase result in increased plasma homocysteine levels and affect brain function. Research shows that individuals with elevated levels of homocysteine are at risk for a stroke. Using an aged female mouse model equivalent to approximately 56-69-year-old-women, Jadavji will investigate the effect of elevated levels of plasma homocysteine on the onset and progression of stroke and determine the efficacy of choline, a nutrient, as a potential therapeutic option. By understanding the basic mechanism, more effective therapies can be developed for women who experience strokes.

Melissa KimberMelissa Kimber, McMaster University

Melissa Kimber will be a postdoctoral fellow within the Offord Centre for Child Studies (Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences) at McMaster University beginning September 2015. She is a registered Social Worker with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers and identifies as a psychiatric epidemiologist. She has a particular interest in investigating and understanding the putative risk and protective factors for eating disorders and family violence among children and adolescents and the extent to which evidence-based interventions to address these concerns can be implemented with fidelity in everyday clinical practice. For her postdoctoral research, Kimber will investigate the links between eating disorders and two types of childhood maltreatment that are difficult to detect and assess – emotional abuse and exposure to violent parents. Kimber hopes that evidence from her work will inform how to adapt family-based interventions to reduce eating disorders among adolescents who have experienced childhood maltreatment.

PhD Awards

Ami TintAmi Tint, York University

Ami Tint is a PhD student in the Clinical Developmental Psychology program at York University. Her research looks at Women with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who often struggle to find appropriate services because they may be geared to meet the needs of young boys with ASD. She will examine how women with ASD perceive their service experiences; what individual, family and social variables predict service use and unmet needs of women with ASD; and how the service experiences of women with ASD differ from those of men with ASD. Results from this study stand to inform community practice and policy for women with ASD.

Carley PopeCarley Pope, Lakehead University

Carley Pope is a first-year doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at Lakehead University. She believes there is a need for a better understanding of perinatal mental health disorders as well as a need for effective preventive and intervention strategies to reduce mothers’ risks. Her doctoral research aims to improve the empirical understanding of mental health related to reproduction with a particular focus on perinatal mental health disorders. The research seeks to determine if Mindfulness Based Therapy (MBT) is effective in reducing affective symptoms during pregnancy and postpartum. As depression and anxiety have been found to negatively affect the daily functioning of mothers and can adversely affect infant development it is critical to establish effective preventive interventions for postpartum affective disorders. Currently, there is a lack of maternal mental health services in many areas of Canada. MBT is a short-term group format program for which a wide range of mental health care professionals can be trained as facilitators. It is hoped that this research will find that MBT is an efficacious, economical, and practical intervention for perinatal affective disorders.

Kelly CoonsKelly Coons, Laurentian University

Kelly Coons is a doctoral candidate in the School of Rural and Northern Health at Laurentian University. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term used to describe a range of effects associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol. Current research involving families of children with FASD shows that parents often do not feel supported by those from whom they expect help, such as doctors, nurses, and midwives. Canadian findings indicate that health care professionals are not prepared to care for pregnant women in the areas of alcohol use or alcohol dependency. Additional research findings also show that health care professionals lack knowledge in important areas, such as FASD identification, long term outcomes of prenatal exposure to alcohol, diagnostic criteria, and alcohol use screening tools. This absence of knowledge is troubling, as health care professionals play a key role in the prevention of FASD through their guidance regarding alcohol use during pregnancy. The research is intended to improve future health care professionals’ confidence, self-efficacy and knowledge of FASD and their ability to appropriately counsel pregnant women regarding alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Master’s Awards

CChristina van den Brinkhristina van den Brink, York University

Christina van den Brink is pursuing a degree in clinical neuropsychology at York University. Her thesis investigates the neural mechanisms of lifestyle-induced cognitive vitality in aging, specifically focusing on how these factors mediate brain changes in a sex-dependent manner. Her aim is to identify mechanisms of enhanced neuroplasticity that can be used to augment neurointervention. Through her research she aims to identify the mechanisms by which these factors yield physiological benefits in terms of overall brain health and functional benefits in terms of enhanced cognitive performance. Ultimately, she plans to apply her findings surrounding lifestyle factor-induced neuroplasticity to inform neurointervention treatments.

Robyn JackowichRobyn Jackowich, Queen’s University

Robyn Jackowich is a Master’s student in the Clinical Psychology program at Queen’s University. Provoked vestibulodynia (PVD) is a chronic pain condition characterized by severe burning pain at the vaginal entrance in response to any contact. PVD is estimated to affect 12 to 16 per cent of adult women, and has a significant negative impact on psychological and sexual well-being. It is also costly to the health care system. Women often consult numerous medical providers before receiving a diagnosis, and a single curative treatment has yet to be identified. As there are no physical indicators of the presence of PVD, its causes remain unknown. Chronic pain conditions are much more common in women than men, and it has been suggested that fluctuations of sex hormones across the menstrual cycle may be partly responsible for this difference. Sex hormones have also been hypothesized to play a role in the etiology of PVD, and oral contraceptive use is associated with increased sensitivity of the vulvar vestibule in healthy women. This research will investigate vulvar pain across the MC of women with PVD, and its relationship to psychological factors. The findings will have implications for the standardization of future PVD research as well as the clinical care of women with PVD. An understanding of PVD pain ratings across the MC would improve our ability to advise women of factors that increase or decrease their pain levels.

Catherine NevinCatherine Nevin, Western University

Catherine Nevin is a Master’s student in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology in collaboration with the Developmental Biology Department at Western University. Fetal Growth Restriction (FGR) in infants small for their gestational age is a known risk factor for cerebral palsy, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, autism and schizophrenia. There is no test to reliably and safely predict which FGR newborns will develop these adverse outcomes. We have developed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques for assessing brain function and development, which have been shown to predict neurodevelopmental outcomes in infants born pre-term and after birth asphyxia. With the use of MRI the research will identify brain developmental abnormalities and biomarkers to predict the presence and extent of brain injury in growth restricted guinea pigs. The findings will be beneficial to underlie the risk for cognitive impairment later in life. This will provide a basis for future clinical interventions and counseling for both the mother and child.

Master’s Award – Renewal

Maurice PasternakMaurice Pasternak, University of Toronto

Maurice Pasternak is a Master’s candidate in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at the University of Toronto. His research is currently focusing on two applications of ultrasound. In the first project, he is continuing his in vitro research, which demonstrated that biophysical data collection by high-frequency ultrasound scanning can be used to quantitatively predict the degree of tumor cell death in the course of chemotherapy treatment. Currently, he is working on recapitulating the results within in vivo mouse models featuring malignant forms of breast cancer. In the second project, he is repurposing the use of ultrasound to acoustically stimulate intravenously-injected inert microbubbles. The stimulation, focused on the tumor site, will cause the microbubbles to make small, temporary tears in blood vessels adjacent to the tumor. This in turn will allow for increased local delivery of anti-tumor agents, facilitating a stronger effect against the cancer without having to increase drug dose. This second project is centered on glioblastoma multiforme, the most common and aggressive brain tumor in humans.