Involving communities in research

While some medical research takes place in laboratories, much more of it takes place in and with communities. Dalhousie Medical School researchers conduct hundreds of studies every year involving volunteer participants, patients at hospitals and clinics, education and health organizations, government agencies, private enterprises, and others—across the Maritimes and around the world. Public and community involvement is essential to this research, which is advancing knowledge, informing policy, improving patient care and contributing to healthier communities.

Canada’s first chair in occupational health will improve workplace safety

In September 2013, Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick became home to Canada’s first research chair in occupational health. Dr. Anil Adisesh relocated from the U.K. to accept the role of J.D. Irving Limited Research Chair in Occupational Medicine. Dr. Adisesh is involving medical students in his field work, liaising with employers across New Brunswick to study their business practices and workplace environments and ensure they promote health while preventing work-related health problems. In addition to research, Dr. Adisesh will develop new modules to teach medical students’ how to recognize, manage and help prevent workplace injuries and illnesses. He’ll also collaborate with government, industry and labour organizations to improve workplace safety in the Maritimes.

Pregnant moms and babies shed light on impact of environmental toxins

Two thousand Canadian women and their babies are taking part in a massive study to understand the health impacts of babies’ exposure to chemicals, in the womb and through their mothers’ breast milk. Dalhousie-IWK epidemiologist Dr. Linda Dodds is heading the Nova Scotia arm of this Canadian Institutes of Health Research-funded study. Having measured the mothers’ chemical loads while pregnant, and assessing toxin levels in cord blood and breast milk, the research team is now following the infants into toddlerhood, visiting them in their homes to assess them for signs of neurodevelopmental and physical effects of their exposures. Dr. Dodds recently received additional funding from the Canadian Diabetes Association to see if early-life exposure to chemicals may also raise the risk of developing metabolic disorders, which could lead to obesity or diabetes later in life.

For more information visit the Maternal-Infant Research on Environmental Chemicals (MIREC) website.

Volunteers offer vital information to long-term population studies

Thousands of Maritime residents are donating their time and health information—and even their blood and toenail clippings for one study—in the name of science. And these volunteers are not just making a short-term commitment to research. They’ve agreed to be contacted and have their health records studied by Dalhousie researchers for decades, through two major long-term population health studies. Atlantic PATH aims to identify genetic and environmental causes of cancer in the region, while the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging is exploring the process of aging and what constitutes healthy aging. The findings of these landmark longitudinal studies will influence government policies and programs, health services, professional education, and health promotion and disease prevention efforts.

Dal Med faculty and students involve Maritime communities in heart health

Community Cardiovascular Hearts in Motion, Heart Healthy Kids and the Heartland Tour are just a few of the faculty-led initiatives that are getting Maritimers moving for the health of their hearts. Research is woven into all of these initiatives, which are exploring how to best manage cardiovascular risk and improve heart health in the region, which suffers some of the highest rates of chronic disease in Canada. Involving schools, communities, patients, allied health professionals, medical students and many others, each of these initiatives is generating enthusiasm for active living and motivating people of all ages and walks of life to improve their physical fitness for the sake of their long-term health.

Community Health on Two Wheels

Research involving Maritime families leads to effective mental health treatment, from a distance

Developed over a decade of working with families through the Centre for Research in Family Health at the IWK, Strongest Families is now a freestanding institute offering online and telephone support and coaching to families across Canada who are coping with attention, behaviour and anxiety disorders. Strongest Families overcomes the barriers of time, distance, cost and stigma that prevent families from accessing traditional mental health services, to provide them with effective methods of solving their problems. Developed by Dalhousie-IWK researchers, Drs. Patrick McGrath and Patricia Lingley-Pottie, and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Strongest Families programs have shown to dramatically improve children’s and families’ wellbeing. Strongest Families recently received the top award in the prestigious Manning Innovation Awards competition.

After successfully launching Strongest Families in Canada, Dalhousie-IWK researchers are now working with health authorities, researchers and families in Finland to see if intervening as early as age four can prevent behaviour disorders. The research partners are screening all four-year-olds in Finland for early signs of disruptive behaviour disorders. When they identify children at risk, they enroll the families in a study comparing an online parenting skills intervention (modelled after the Strongest Families approach) to typical psychological treatment. They want to learn which approach leads to the best results for children and their families.