2017-18 Ontario Women’s Health Scholars

Postdoctoral Awards

Rachel Barken, York University

Rachel Barken’s research explores the health and well-being of women who provide informal care in long-term care homes. Informal care often falls more to women than to men, resulting in increased health issues for women. When care givers don’t get adequate support, it can result in stress, depression, anxiety, illness and physical injury. With few support groups available for those who provide informal care to people in long-term care homes, Rachel hopes her research will help differentiate between meaningful and burdensome forms of care, which will then lead to policy and practice recommendations to improve the health and well-being of these care givers. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Sociology at York University.

Irene Vitoroulis, McMaster University

Irene Vitoroulis’ research focuses on understanding risks to mental health and factors that can protect it among adolescent immigrants and refugees. In particular, Irene will investigate the prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders among teenage girls from refugee and immigrant backgrounds, and the extent to which social stressors and disruptive parenting practices contribute to a higher risk for mental health issues. Depressive disorders are the leading cause of non-fatal burden of disease worldwide, with girls three times more likely to be affected than boys. Irene hopes her research will help identify vulnerable sub-groups of refugee and immigrant girls who are at risk, and help lead to approaches tailored specifically to girls. Irene has been a postdoctoral fellow at the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster University since September 2015.

Postdoctoral Awards (Renewals)

Alisa Grigorovich, University of Toronto

Alisa Grigorovich’s research focuses on the social organization of care and reducing unjust differences in health quality. As a postdoctoral fellow in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Alisa is investigating female workers’ experiences and responses to unwanted sexual attention from clients in residential long-term care. These experiences may be difficult for workers to manage, may negatively affect their mental health and job outcomes, and compromise the quality of care they are able to provide. Developing appropriate policies is complex and ethically challenging in the residential long-term care setting as clients are older adults with profound cognitive impairments. Alisa hopes her research will lead to more effective sexual policies and guidelines.

Doctoral Awards

Andrea LaMarre, University of Guelph

Andrea LaMarre’s research focuses on the experiences of women and their support networks during recovery from eating disorders. As many as one million Canadians meet the criteria for an eating disorder at any given time, with an even larger number of people reporting symptoms that are debilitating, but insufficient for diagnosis. About eight in 10 people with eating disorders are women, many of whom struggle with complex social identities and face barriers to care. No two recovery experiences are alike. As a result, treatment systems are often ill-equipped to handle the complexity of eating disorders and are unable to provide a clear path to recovery. Andrea hopes her research will help inform clinical practice and policy decisions, while identifying changes that can be made to help women with eating disorders and their supporters. She is a PhD candidate in the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition at the University of Guelph.


Halina (Lin) Haag, Wilfrid Laurier University

Halina (Lin) Haag is researching in the areas of disabilities and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Her research focuses on women survivors of intimate partner violence that results in brain injury, exploring factors influencing mental health, return to work and social inclusion. As someone who has experienced traumatic brain injury, Lin uses her story as motivation for her research. Intimate partner violence is the primary cause of physical injury to Canadian women aged 15 to 44, while hits to the head, face and neck are the most common forms of violence leading to TBI. Lin’s research will explore the connection between TBI, intimate partner violence and mental illness, in order to identify what supports women need, and to develop recommendations. Her research aims to improve the health and well-being of women who suffer brain injuries as a result of intimate partner violence. Lin is a PhD student in the Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Paula Miotto, University of Guelph

Paula Miotto’s research focuses on finding new ways to slow osteoporosis – a condition that affects a third of all women – causing bones to become thin and porous. After menopause, women become more susceptible to bone loss due to lower hormone production of estrogen, leading to an increased risk of breaking a bone. While the use of hormone replacement therapy is a common and effective treatment for osteoporosis, it’s strongly associated with cancer of the breast and ovaries. Paula’s research aims to understand the cellular causes of bone loss when estrogen levels are low to identify new targets for alternative therapies. She hopes her research can be used to develop treatments that are equally as effective as hormone replacement therapy, leading to slower bone loss in osteoporotic women without negative side effects. Paula is a PhD candidate in the Human Health and Nutritional Sciences program at the University of Guelph.

Doctoral Awards (Renewals)

Sara King-Dowling, McMaster University

Sara King-Dowling’s research examines the connections between motor coordination, physical activity and health outcomes in girls and boys across early childhood. Developmental coordination disorder is a brain disorder characterized by problems with motor coordination. Women with the disorder are less likely to be identified than their male peers due to less emphasis and pressure placed on women to pursue physical-related activities, as well as lower rates of associated conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.. Adolescent girls with developmental coordination disorder tend to be the least active and have the lowest self-confidence in their physical capabilities compared to boys with the disorder and to their developing peers. As a result, girls with the disorder may be at greater risk for becoming overweight and unfit, while developing health problems later in life. By studying women with motor coordination difficulties from a young age, Sara’s research has the potential to inform early intervention strategies that will help keep women with the disorder involved in physical activity and reduce their risk of developing health problems as they enter adulthood. Sara is a PhD candidate in the department of kinesiology at McMaster University.

Komal Shaikh, York University

Komal Shaikh’s research focuses on cancer-related cognitive dysfunction, and the difficulties with memory and attention experienced by some patients following cancer treatment. Although the dysfunction has been reported in a variety of cancer types, it is best described in cancers that disproportionately affect women. The “slowed thinking” experienced by many female cancer survivors can have negative long-term implications on their quality of life. Since the causes of the disorder are not well understood, women who experience it  often experience a lack of support from the medical community. As a PhD student in the clinical neuropsychology program at York University, Komal aims to improve the quality of life in women experiencing cognitive decline following cancer treatment.

Amanda Timmers, Queen’s University

Amanda Timmers’ research focuses on gender-specific treatments for sexual dysfunction. Traditional understanding of sexual dysfunction is based on data describing men’s sexuality, despite important gender differences between men and women’s sexual arousal patterns. Important factors for men’s sexual responses don’t often coincide with women’s sexual arousal patterns. Through her research, Amanda hopes to better understand gender differences in sexual responding and develop gender-specific models of sexual response. She hopes to achieve this goal by researching important factors in women’s sexual responses across the menstrual cycle. Amanda is a PhD candidate in the clinical psychology program at Queen’s University.

Master’s Award

Sophie Poznanski, McMaster University

Sophie Poznanski’s research will explore the application of Natural Killer immune cells as a new treatment for ovarian cancer. With more than half of women diagnosed unable to survive more than five years, ovarian cancer is emerging as one of the most deadly gynecological cancers in the world. Known as a “silent killer,” symptoms aren’t often revealed until the cancer has spread, resulting in more than three quarters of ovarian cancer cases diagnosed at an advanced stage. Current treatments of chemotherapy and surgery are only temporarily effective for patients at advanced stages, revealing a critical need for new and effective treatments for ovarian cancer. Through her research, Sophie aims to harness the therapeutic potential of Natural Killer cells against ovarian cancer and develop an effective therapy that improves the lives of women who are affected by the disease. Sophie is a master’s student in the medical sciences program at McMaster University.