On June 22, 2016, University of Alberta President and Vice-Chancellor David Turpin united with Alberta Health Services President and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu and with the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, Dr. Richard Fedorak, to announce the historic gift with Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation President and CEO Mike House, and Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation President and CEO Andrew Otway.
"My deepest thanks to both the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation and their donors for their extraordinary commitment to continue to support WCHRI’s work. These organizations, as well as Alberta Health Services and the University of Alberta, believe what we all believe—research is the basis of the best health care. In other words, there is a cure for every disease: research." —Sandy Davidge, Director, WCHRI
The Women and Children's Health Research Institute (WCHRI) has received $14.5 million from the Royal Alexandra Foundation and $40 million from the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation—the largest gift in the U of A’s history.
Addressing a packed atrium at the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy, Sandy Davidge, professor from the departments of obstetrics and gynecology and physiology, as well as director of WCHRI, expressed gratitude for the incredible commitment made to women and children’s health research initiatives: “My deepest thanks to both the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation and their donors for their extraordinary commitment to continue to support WCHRI’s work. These organizations, as well as Alberta Health Services and the University of Alberta, believe what we all believe—research is the basis of the best health care. In other words, there is a cure for every disease: research.”
Davidge, who holds a prestigious Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in maternal and perinatal cardiovascular health, tells us more about the role of WCHRI in our Faculty and beyond, and how gifts like this transform many lives, reaching patients, researchers and our community.
Answers were curated and condensed from a series of interviews leading up to the announcement, as well as speeches and comments on June 22, 2016.
Q: What is the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute (WCHRI)?
The institute is a partnership between the University of Alberta and Alberta Health Services, with core funding provided by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and supporters of the Lois Hole Hospital for Women. WCHRI members are researchers working in university labs and Alberta Health Services hospitals.
Q: Who are the people within WCHRI?
The Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry is the proud home of WCHRI. More than 300 members of the Faculty participate in the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute, and the work of the institute extends across the U of A, and across organizations—there are more than 450 U of A researchers in total participating, demonstrating that this institute is built on partnership and collaboration.
"Until recently, research used adult male models as the standard of care. But women are not smaller men. And children are not tiny adults."
Q: What kind of work does WCHRI do?
It is the only institute in Canada, and one of only a few in the world, dedicated to the full spectrum of women’s, children’s and perinatal health. We address the unique health needs of women and children. Albertans are fortunate to have WCHRI.
As an institute, we support the infrastructure of research and excellence through grant programs and through our expert support personnel, research coordinators, clinical research nurses and statisticians. We also support the training of the next generation of researchers focused on women’s and children’s health.
Q: Why is WCHRI’s research important for our communities?
Evidence shows when you embed research into health care, our patients have better health outcomes. We are doing that for women and children here in Alberta at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women and the Stollery Children’s Hospital.
Women and children are often underrepresented in research. Despite being a majority of the population, the particular health needs of these groups are often overlooked. Until recently, research used adult male models as the standard of care. But women are not smaller men. And children are not tiny adults.
Women metabolize medicines differently than men, and children react differently to medicines at different stages in their development. Some medicines that work for men can be ineffective or detrimental to children's health.
We all have women and children in our lives, so it impacts all of us. But an interesting finding of which people may not be as aware is that early development impacts later-life health. How a child develops in their first 2,000 days of life predicts long-term health. If you have a poor environment during that timeframe, you will have increased risk of chronic disease such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Healthy women and healthy children—that impacts the general population as a whole.
Q: What kind of areas does a donation like this benefit?
This gift will allow WCHRI’s work to continue for at least another 10 years. We will continue to attract world-renowned researchers to the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, to the U of A and contribute to the development of Edmonton’s reputation as a health city.
Albertans can be proud that their donations are being put to use right here, to support some of the best medical research in the world. They are receiving the benefit of our research first—right here at home. Our patients are living longer, healthier lives because of the advances made in research focused on women’s and children’s health.
Q: Your own research in the Davidge Lab is supported by the generous supporters of the Lois Hole Hospital for Women and the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through WCHRI. Can you tell us about your research?
I study pregnancy complications and the impact they have for the developing newborn in terms of developing cardiovascular diseases later in life. I study preeclampsia, a potentially lethal condition that affects up to eight per cent of pregnancies, where women have high blood pressure due to the pregnancy.
As well, I investigate the impact of intra-uterine growth restriction—babies that are born too small—and how this may impact their chronic, long-term cardiovascular health. We are looking at developing early interventions and not waiting until children already have chronic disease, but finding ways to prevent disease before it even develops.
Meet our innovators
Dr. Sandra Davidge is a professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and the Department of Physiology at the University of Alberta, aside from her role as director of WCHRI. Davidge holds a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Maternal and Perinatal Cardiovascular Health and is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. Her pioneering and internationally renowned research focuses on vascular health in preeclampsia and strategies to prevent chronic cardiovascular diseases in children born from complicated pregnancies.
Davidge’s laboratory is funded by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and also by WCHRI, through the support of the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation.