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Novel women’s health research is taking place across Ontario’s universities, exploring pressing topics such as pregnancy, mental health, sexual desire and eating disorders. Six leading researchers from Ontario universities are being recognized for their research in these areas with a 2021 Women’s Health Scholars Award, earning scholarships of up to $50,000 to continue their important research with a goal to improve the health and well-being of women across Ontario. The annual awards are funded by the Ontario government and administered by the Council of Ontario Universities.
This outstanding work reflects Ontario universities’ commitment to providing a quality academic experience. One that fosters skills and provides a collaborative environment to enable the innovative research that can lead to improved services for women across the province.
For more information on how the awards are administered: Click Here
To learn about last year’s winners: Click Here
Pascale Robineau-Charette’s research investigates the interaction between maternal and fetal cells in the early stages of pregnancy to determine embryo health. Her research examines how specific molecules within the cells dictate the mother’s immune system response to invading fetal cells, which sometimes causes some women to experience complications such as recurring miscarriages.
By investigating the interactions of these cells at a molecular level using artificial intelligence and a new technology called spatial transcriptomics, Robineau-Charette can map where and how individual cells interact with neighbouring cells to form a healthy or terminal pregnancy. The results of her research will help inform an understanding of the maternal immune system and the development of treatment to improve pregnancy outcomes.
Pascale Robineau-Charette is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto where she studies placental research and employs molecular, histological and computational techniques to investigate how the maternal immune system contributes to recurrent pregnancy loss and preeclampsia. She completed her master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Ottawa.
Melissa Furtado’s research aims to develop a better understanding of what places pregnant individuals at risk of developing or experiencing heightened anxiety during pregnancy and within 12 months postpartum. The project further aims to identify safe and effective preventative methods and treatment options to ensure the long-term health and safety of the mother and child.
Furtado and her colleagues identified that individuals who experience intolerance of uncertainty — the fear of engaging in uncertain situations — are at an increased risk of postpartum anxiety and have developed a tool to aid in the early detection of anxiety symptoms during and after pregnancy. Furtado will explore if pregnant individuals who are intolerant of uncertainty will react positively to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programs as a form of treatment.
Currently, existing research has only looked at the effect of CBT programs on non-pregnant individuals. Furtado’s research would be the first to determine if a low-risk, focused treatment during pregnancy can prevent the development of postpartum anxiety.
Melissa Furtado is a doctoral student at McMaster University where she is pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology. She has been actively engaged in women’s health research over the last several years previously completing a master’s of science in neuroscience studying the psychosocial and biological risk factors of postpartum anxiety.
Rebecca Horne’s research aims to understand how working women’s experiences of work-family conflict and support shape their health over the course of job relocation. In the first study of its kind, Horne will work directly with employed women in relationships to track their experiences at several time points since their time of relocation.
She will examine several factors such as psychological adjustment, physical health, relationship quality, work-to-family and family-to-work conflict and workplace and family support to uncover critical information about what factors undermine and protect working women’s psychological, physical and relationship health throughout job relocation.
Horne’s findings will inform workplace and family-related policy and practice to better facilitate work-family integration, create support structures and safeguard women’s health during a period of major transition.
Rebecca Horne is a doctoral student at the University of Toronto pursing a PhD in social psychology. Her broader research program strives to understand how relationship processes and structural forces build up or break down a couple’s relationship quality and personal well-being with a focus on sacrifice as it relates to gender dynamics and family work in romantic relationships.
Cailtin Barry’s research examines how romantic relationships and sexual satisfaction influence sexual arousal and desire in women with Female Sexual Interest and Arousal Disorder (FSIAD). Women diagnosed with FSIAD experience reduced or absent sexual interest and arousal and often report poorer sex lives as a result. Presently, existing treatments approved by Health Canada aren’t always effective in treating FSIAD.
Sexual arousal and desire disorders including FSIAD, currently affect up to one third of Canadian women. By providing insight into the factors that contribute to a diagnosis, Barry’s research could be used to inform new lines of treatment and help women regain their confidence and a more fulfilling and enjoyable sex life.
Caitlin Barry is a master’s student at Queen’s University studying clinical psychology. Through her research, she hopes to contribute to the field of sexuality and sexual health and conduct research that directly benefits women.
Danika Quesnel’s research aims to implement a clinical guideline for the treatment and management of dysfunctional exercises in eating disorder recovery. Currently, dysfunctional exercise engagement contributes significantly to eating disorder relapse, illness chronicity and a worse overall prognosis. When safe, managed and supervised, exercise has been shown to have significant psychological and physical benefits for individuals with eating disorders, especially among women who experience eating disorders at a higher rate than men.
Quesnel previously co-authored the Safe Exercise at Every Stage guideline which will inform her current research project as she facilitates training sessions with clinicians across treatment centres in North America. Afterwards, she will assess the effectiveness of the guideline in improving clinician’s self-efficacy and knowledge on how to manage dysfunctional exercise in eating disorders.
The outcome of Quesnel’s research will improve treatment outcomes and client relationships with exercise and movement while facilitating recovery from eating disorders.
Danika Quesnel is a master’s student in the clinical psychology program at Western University. Her research is grounded in bringing wellness into Canadian’s life through both the mind and body. Her background in human kinetics and clinical psychology brings an interdisciplinary perspective to her research.
Tyrah Ritchie’s research investigates cannabis exposure during pregnancy and whether or not it negatively impacts the maternal immune system resulting in pregnancy complications.
While women report using cannabis to self-medicate their morning sickness, there is an increased occurrence of pregnancy complications in women who use cannabis while pregnant. This includes a 50 per cent increase in risk of stillbirth and impaired brain developments for the child.
By understanding the impacts driving cannabis-induced pregnancy complications, Ritchie can determine how cannabis affects maternal immune cells and how cannabis-induced cell functional changes can result in pregnancy complications. The outcome of this research also has the potential to influence and inform public health efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of prenatal cannabis use.
Tyrah Ritchie is a master’s student in the medical sciences graduate program at McMaster University. She completed her undergraduate degree at the same institution where she completed research at the McMaster Immunology Research Centre.