Meet Our Members
Learn more about our researchers and their ongoing interests.
Karen Benzies, Nursing
My research is centered on improving parental mental health and well-being so moms and dads can give their babies the best start in life.
Specifically, my current projects focus on finding what parenting programs work best for families and children with differing needs.
Ideally, the outcome of my research will result in positive, early parent-child relationships that support life-long learning and health.
Francois P. Bernier, Genetics
I have an ongoing interest in the clinical and molecular delineation of a novel autosomal recessive disorder (dilated cardiomyopathy, cerebellar ataxia and 3-methylglutaconic aciduria) which I described in our Hutterite population.
My recent project work has also focused on the genetics on childhood neurodevelopmental disorders including developmental coordination disorder and autism. I am also working on establishing a large prospective cohort study of women and children to explore the relationship between maternal environment and nutrition on maternal and child mental health as well as neonatal and infant health including congenital anomalies.
The establishment of the cohort as well as a biobank will provide ample opportunities to explore the relationship between the maternal environment and genes.
Kathryn Birnie, Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine
My research uses a patient-oriented approach to improve the assessment and management of pain in children and their families.
My current projects focus on 1) identifying best measures to assess pain and functioning in children with brain-based developmental disabilities; 2) co-designing health services to prevent the development of chronic pain in children after surgery; and 3) understanding psychosocial mechanisms underlying the intergenerational transmission of pain and mental health in families and co-designing prevention and interventions to mitigate risk and build resilience.
Our research addresses previously identified priorities for improving and preventing pain identified by children, their families, and health professionals. Our approach integrates patient engagement and knowledge mobilization activities to ensure that our findings will lead to meaningful and effective change to health interventions and health policy.
Chad Bousman, Medical Genetics, Psychiatry, Physiology and Pharmacology
My research is centered on optimizing the use of mental health medications with evidenced-based genomic tools.
My research program is focused on: (1) understanding how genes contribute to adverse effects of mental health medications in children and adolescents and (2) evaluating the implementation of pharmacogenetic testing in real-world child and adolescent mental health settings.
Ideally, the outcomes of my research will facilitate safe and effective use of mental health medications for Alberta’s children and youth.
Signe Lauren Bray, Radiology/Imaging
My research is centered on measuring the brain in typical development and in children with neurodevelopmental disorders.
Specifically, my current project(s) focus on understanding how maturing brain systems relate to children’s improving attention skills and what brain features place children at risk for attention difficulties. A part of this work is looking at children who were born very preterm, because we know they are at greater risk for attention problems. We also look at children and youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder and try to understand the brain basis of symptoms like tactile sensitivities.
Ideally, the outcome of my research will lead to inter ventions or treatments that can help children lead happier and more productive lives.
My research is centered on understanding children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) from a strengths-based perspective.
Specifically, my current projects focus on broadening our understanding of stigma and knowledge related to ADHD as well exploring how other mental health issues may relate to these experiences. We are also looking at ways in which we can reduce stigma, such as through the use of educational programs or through situational exposure such as hearing the experiences of children and families with ADHD.
Ideally, the outcome of my research will lead to a better understanding of the abilities of children with ADHD, rather than continuing to focus on the areas in which they struggle.
Beverly Collison, Pediatrics
My research is centered on toddlers and children with atypical language learning trajectories and infants, toddlers, and children with dysphagia.
Specifically, my current projects focus on intervention studies involving toddlers and children with developmental language disorder, longitudinal studies of children identified as late talkers, and observational studies of infants and children with dysphagia.
Ideally, the outcomes of my research will lead to discovering the intervention conditions and circumstances that effectively support toddlers and children with developmental language disorder, identifying how parents can more actively engage in interventions, and contributing to the clinical care of infants, toddlers, and children with dysphagia.
Suzanne Curtin, Psychology
My research is centered on understanding how young infants make sense of all the sounds in their world and begin to learn their language.
My current projects focus on how infants who are typically developing use the meaningful sounds and sound patterns in their language to learn about words. I also work on exploring whether infants who are at risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder show similar early preferences for speech, and whether this is related to their social communication development.
Ideally, the outcome of my research will lead to a broader picture of how language, one of the hallmarks of human development, is acquired so quickly and seamlessly, and how early preferences for human speech may impact one’s developmental trajectory and outcome.
Deborah Dewey, Pediatrics
My research is focused on advancing knowledge on the effects of genetics, epigenetics and the early environment on children’s health and neurodevelopment, and potential interventions for children and adolescents at risk.
My current projects are examining: 1) the impact of co-occurring neurodevelopmental disorders such as attention deficit disorder, developmental coordination disorder, and autism spectrum disorder on children’s neurodevelopment and mental health, 2) the effects of prenatal exposure to environmental neurotoxicants such as bisphenol A (BPA), which is ubiquitous in the environment, on children’s neurodevelopment, cognition and health; 3) psychosocial and academic outcome of children who recently arrived in Calgary as refugees; and 4) the impact of place of birth (i.e. home versus health facility) on maternal and infant outcomes in rural communities in NorthwesternTanzania.
The outcomes of my research will lead to a better understanding of the prenatal and early childhood factors that could affect neurodevelopmental outcomes in children.
Deinera Exner-Cortens, Social Work
My research focuses on promoting healthy relationships in school and community settings in childhood and adolescence, as a foundation for mental health promotion and violence prevention.
I am currently leading the mixed-methods evaluation of a gender-transformative program for adolescent boys that aims to promote healthy relationships and positive mental health, funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada. I am also leading a SSHRC-funded study that will develop and evaluate a social-network informed coaching model to promote school-based mental health service delivery, and a PolicyWise-funded study working to develop gatekeeper intervention training for teachers as part of school-based suicide prevention. Finally, I am collaborating on a Public Health Agency of Canada funded-project that will evaluate initiatives to promote the healthy relationships capacity of pre-service teachers and social workers.
Ideally, the outcome of my research is that all children and youth have access to relationships and environments that are safe, supportive and violence-free.
Laura Flores-Sarnat, Pediatrics
My research is centered on neurodevelopmental conditions that include brain malformations, specifically those caused by a defective neural crest (a temporary group of cells) called neurocristopathies.
My current project(s) involve studying brain malformations, in particular, neurocutaneous syndromes, which impact the central nervous system. I am working to establish a classification of neurological characteristics of rare disorders called epidermal nervus syndromes with genetic correlation.
Ideally, my research will lead to better knowledge for clinicians (neurologists, pediatricians, obstetricians) and promote collaboration. As well, it could help with early detection of these syndromes – possibly as early as the prenatal period. I also hope my work will establish a basis for classification and early intervention/treatment.
Gerald Giesbrecht, Pediatrics
My research is centered on identifying the ways in which exposure to stress disrupts development in young children.
Specifically, my current projects focus on examining how exposure to stress during gestation and in early life may change children’s physiology, which in turn disrupts healthy emotional and cognitive development. We are also examining resilience factors, like nutrition and social support, which may prevent stress from disrupting children’s development.
Ideally, the outcomes of my research will lead to cost effective, scalable, and simple interventions that could reduce the burden of mental and physical illness borne by children who are exposed to stress in early life.
Susan Graham, Psychology
My research examines how language and cognitive skills develop during the infancy and preschool years.
My current projects focus on 1) how young children form categories and concepts and use these concepts to reason about the world; 2), how children become effective communicators, and 3) trajectories of language development across childhood, an examination of the factors that place children at risk for a language disorder, and the factors that reduce the risk of language problems.
Given the importance of language skills for later academic achievement and socio-emotional well-being, my research will help researchers, clinicians and parents have a better understanding of how children learn language and develop concepts about the world around them.
Ashley Harris, Radiology/Imaging
My research is centered on using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to understand brain neurochemistry, function, and structure.
Specifically, one of my current projects focuses on understanding pediatric migraine. Another project focuses on investigating changes in metabolites in the brain and cortical processing of tactile stumuli during recovery from concussion. A third project focuses on tactile sensitivity and cognitive processes in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared to typically developing children.
Ideally, the outcome of my research will lead to a greater understanding of how the brain works by understanding the neurochemistry as well as its function and structure and how these three characteristics are related. With this understanding in typical, healthy states; alterations with clinical conditions; and, alterations that promote plasticity and recovery, improved targeted therapies can be developed.
Myriam Hemberger, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
My overarching research interest is aimed at gaining a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms underpinning development and function of the placenta. A functional placenta is essential for healthy pregnancy progression, yet the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms underpinning formation of this organ remain poorly understood.
We are using new, improved cell culture systems for modelling the earliest stages of pregnancy when key steps in placental development occur. We are also focussing on gaining a mechanistic understanding of how the placenta has a particularly prominent impact on heart and brain development of the baby.
Ideally, the outcome of our work will reveal how placental defects can cause neurodevelopmental and cognitive disorders as well as congenital heart defects, and thereby uncover novel therapeutic target pathways to improve or even prevent these developmental disorders.
Adam Kirton, Pediatrics
My research is centered on applying technologies including neuroimaging and non- invasive brain stimulation to measure and modulate the response of the developing brain to early injury to generate new therapies.
My current projects focus on using non-invasive brain stimulation to enhance motor learning in children including those with cerebral palsy secondary to perinatal stroke and mapping the brain to understand how such interventions work.
Ideally, the outcome of my research will lead to new advances in precision neurorehabilitation that realize personal goals for disabled children and their families.
Deborah M. Kurrasch, Genetics
My research centers around the study of the hypothalamus, a small but powerful brain region that controls a variety of physiologies, including feeding, puberty, reproduction, thirst, and sleep. I am interested in how the hypothalamus develops, as a way to understand the underlying basis of fetal programming and how an adverse in utero environment alters normal brain development to lead to disease later in life, such as anxiety or obesity.
Alongside this work, we have also developed a novel, metabolism-based drug screening platform using zebrafish and mice that is focused on identifying novel therapeutics for the treatment of epilepsy, particularly children with refractory epilepsy. We are currently exploring the use of this technology to screen for drugs that may improve the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorders.
Combined, my lab is focused on understanding the mechanisms underlying developmental disorders and also the identification of new ways to treat them.
Catherine Lebel, Radiology/Imaging
My research is centered on using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study brain development in children and adolescents.
Specifically, my current projects focus on how brain maturation and brain plasticity are related to cognition and behaviour, and how these relationships may be different in children with developmental disorders.
Ideally, the outcome of my research will lead to earlier identification and more effective treatments for children with developmental disorders.
Marc Lebel, Radiology/Imaging
My pediatric research program has two synergistic objectives: (1) develop and refine methods for rapid image acquisition and (2) explore novel contrast mechanisms for investigating the developing brain.
My research projects hold considerable promise for characterizing pediatric brain development and for assessing acute and chronic conditions, like traumatic brain injury. Abnormally high or low blood flow is implicated in many neurological conditions, yet the role of perfusion during development and following pediatric brain injury is poorly understood yet likely plays a crucial role.
The outcome of my research will enhance our understanding of the role of brain perfusion in brain development.
Nicole Letourneau, Nursing
My research is centered on parenting and child development, particularly under conditions of toxic stress (depression, family violence, low-income).
I run a number of concurrent projects, but two of the current projects that I lead focus on developing interventions for mothers affected by postpartum depression and toxic stress to promote optimal maternal reflective function and children’s secure maternal-infant attachment and healthy development. I am also working on an intervention to promote low-income parents’ understanding of the brain science underpinning children’s healthy development. Another key study is the Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition (APrON) cohort of 2,200 mothers, their infants and 1,200 fathers followed since the first trimester of pregnancy and now approaching the 8-year follow-up.
The outcomes of my research will lead to a greater understanding of important factors that contribute to children’s development, how early experience affects development, targets for intervention, and how demonstrations of effective programs can lead to improved children’s development.
Frank P. MacMaster, Psychiatry
My research is centered on using brain imaging to uncover why disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Tourette's syndrome happen.
Specifically, my current projects focus on (1) executive function in children with ADHD and (2) the effect of brain stimulation on both symptoms and brain function in children with Tourette’s syndrome.
Ideally, the outcome of my research will lead to a better understanding of ADHD and Tourette’s syndrome, along with new treatment targets – offering hope for children suffering from these disorders.
Sheri Madigan, Psychology
My research is centered on understanding how social stressors and adversities can influence child social, emotional, and cognitive development.
Specifically, my current projects focus on understanding why some mothers, children, and youth show resilience to these stressors and adversities while others remain vulnerable.
Ideally, the outcome of my research will lead to shrinking disparities in child development and helping children become happier, healthier, and more successful.
Adam McCrimmon, Education
My program of research is focused on autism spectrum disorder (ASD), particularly on the identification of strengths and enhancement of resiliency in this population so as to promote positive developmental outcome.
My current projects include examination of a number of factors such as cognitive and emotional intelligence, executive functions, theory of mind, and mental health (anxiety and depression) in children, teens, and adults with ASD and how these factors are related to resilient outcomes.
The intent is to study these factors and to develop interventions to enhance resilient functioning.
Sheila Mcdonald, Alberta Health Services
My research is centered on the examination of the early life influences on child development and family well-being across the life course.These early life influences include factors such as birth outcomes, maternal mental health, and preconception experiences such as maternal experiences of early adversity to examine intergenerational processes of risk and resilience.
My current projects focus on maternal history of early trauma and adversity and child behaviour outcomes in the next generation, as well as mechanisms underlying these associations and buffering factors. Additional work focuses on the relationship between small size at birth and later metabolic and cognitive outcomes, and whether statistical approaches in previous work has under or overstated findings.
Ideally, the outcome of my research will lead to a better understanding of association between early life factors and child development, and identification of modifiable risk and resilience factors to inform both preventive and early intervention approaches to optimize well-being.
Carly McMorris, Education
My research is centered on understanding children and youth with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) who experience co-occurring mental health issues.
My current projects focus on determining underlying mechanisms (e.g., cognitive factors, brain structure, maternal factors) for the development, and maintenance of mental health issues in children and youth with NDDs. I am also interested in examining the effectiveness of interventions aimed to reduce mental health symptoms in children and youth with NDDs (e.g., Facing Your Fears - a CBT group for children with autism and anxiety).
Ideally, the outcomes of my research will lead to better prevention, diagnostic, and intervention strategies for this population;as well as how best to support these individuals, and their families.
Amy Metcalfe, Obstetrics and Gynecology
My research focuses on optimizing the management of chronic disease during pregnancy.
Specifically, I do this by: 1) examining the impact of medical management of chronic disease in pregnancy on maternal and fetal health; 2) evaluating the ability of alternative models of prenatal care to improve disease control and obstetrical outcomes; and 3) assessing the risk of long-term disease complications following pregnancy.
Underlying this program of research is a focus on validation of existing data sources for use in research and application of novel statistical methods to answer clinically relevant questions.
Kara Murias, Pediatrics
My research is centered on the different trajectories of cognitive abilities in children with neurodevelopmental or neurological disease, what underlies these differences at the biological level, and whether we can predict or alter that trajectory.
Specifically, my current projects focus on children with autism and co-occurring neurologic conditions.
Ideally, the outcome of my research will lead to better understanding of the underlying biologic differences that contribute to the range of cognitive outcomes we see in brain-based developmental diseases to improve treatments and outcomes of children at risk for intellectual impairments.
Melanie Noel, Psychology
My research is centered around the investigation of pain during childhood. Poorly managed acute pain during childhood has long-lasting effects on health that can persist well into adulthood and lead to distressing memories, fears, and avoidance of medical care.
My research program focuses on testing novel interventions to modify children’s memories for acute pain to optimize future health outcomes and 2) examining risk factors for both the development and maintenance of chronic pain and associated mental health comorbidities (PTSD).
My research will apply an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the problem of pediatric acute and chronic pain that unifies approaches in psychology, neuroscience, and medicine. The outcome of my work will have a direct clinical impact on the health of children and families by solving the puzzle of pediatric acute and chronic pain.
Tamara Pringsheim, Clinical Neurosciences
My research is centered on the development and promotion of safe and effective interventions for child and youth mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders. I work with professional organizations to develop evidence-based guidelines on the management of neurological and mental health disorders, and create knowledge translation tools to help improve practice.
Specifically, my current project(s) explore novel interventions for the management of tic disorders in children, youth and adults, understanding physician prescribing behaviors and drug safety monitoring practices, and defining the characteristics of tremor and related sensorimotor dysfunction in children.
Ideally, the outcome of my research will improve the standard of care of children and youth with mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders, develop new interventions which improve quality of life, and improve our understanding of neurological and mental health disorders.
Harvey Sarnat, Pediatrics
My research is centred on the development of the normal human brain as well as abnormal development leading to malformations. I also examine brain tissue removed surgically in the treatment of severe epilepsy in infants and children. And I am studying development of olfaction (sense of smell) and abnormalities in olfactory parts of the brain though tissue examination.
My current projects focus on 1) how U-fibres (neuronal processes just beneath the cerebral cortex) contribute to epileptic networks of the brain; 2) mitochondria, the subcellular energy-producing part of the cell, in diseases involving mitochondria; and 3) studying tissue to determine the cause of congenital narrowing of the aqueduct of the midbrain, where ventricular fluid must flow to avoid hydrocephalus.
Ideally, my research will lead to better understanding of why abnormal development of the nervous system causes malformations, which is an essential predecessor to finding specific treatment or prevention of these developmental problems.
Kelly Schwartz, Education
I do research with children, youth, and families that engages in several areas of social development, including exploring the reciprocal influences of peers, family, school, media, and community on child and youth development. In all cases, my research attempts to activate a positive youth development framework, wherein we explore the social and personal factors that contribute to youth mental health and thriving.
I am currently heavily invested in research related to how operational stress in military members and first responders (e.g., police, fire, paramedic) is transmitted to and impacts on the social and psychological development of their families. In particular, we want to learn what developmental assets and/or resilience factors are activated in family members that help them to cope with and thrive. We are also engaged with several projects that explore the role of parenting as a moderator for the effects of social media and screen time on developmental outcomes.
It is our goal that our research will translate into prevention and intervention strategies that will both endorse and enhance the positive developmental strengths already present in most children, youth, and their families.
Jane Shearer, Kinesiology
intestines) and the health of the developing brain. Recent research has revealed that diet modifies gut microflora and affects biological processes of the body including neural, immune, endocrine, and behavioral functions. In support of this, studies have found that children with neurological conditions such as epilepsy and autism spectrum disorder often present with abnormal compositions of microflora in the gut compared to typically developing children.
Specifically, my current project(s) focus on examining the role of the gut microbiome in neurodevelopmental disorders and how these signals are communicated.
Ideally, the outcomes of my research will lead to a better understanding of underlying contributors to neurodevelopmental disorders leading to individualized diagnostic and therapeutic strategies that exploit the gut microbiome. The end result being to improve the lives and families of children with neurological disorders.
Tim Shutt, Genetics
My research focuses on human mitochondria, essential organelles best known for generating both energy and reactive oxygen species (ROS). However, mitochondria are also key regulators of many other important cellular functions and their dysfunction has been implicated in a broad spectrum of human disorders and aging. My research interests comprise two key aspects of mitochondria, mitochondrial dynamics and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).
My current projects focus on 1) understanding how mitochondrial shape is regulated, as this strongly influences mitochondrial function, 2) characterizing novel human mutations that cause mitochondrial disease, and 3) determining how the mtDNA expression is finely tuned.
The outcomes of this research will help us to understand what causes mitochondrial dysfunction, and to begin to develop strategies to improve mitochondrial function in the growing list of human pathologies where mitochondria are recognized to play an important role.
Lianne Tomfohr-Madsen, Psychology
My research centers on development and evaluation of early interventions aimed at the prevention of emergence of clinical disease in children, especially those coming from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.
Specifically, I have several projects evaluating the treatment of parental mental health problems experienced in pregnancy. The goal of these projects is to reduce mental health problems in pregnancy with the secondary goals of improving the fetal environment and reducing the likelihood that parents will experience mental health problems in the postpartum period. In a related line of work, I have also recently started to test and develop intervention for child sleep problems in multiple populations, including pediatric oncology and mild traumatic brain injury.
Ideally, the outcome of my research will lead to increased access to parents experiencing mental health problems in the transition to parenthood, a reduced burden on children of being exposed to a parent with a mental health problem, and improved treatment for sleep problems in children and young families.
Suzanne Tough, Pediatrics
My research is centered on understanding the intersection between maternal and family well-being and child development. Our primary method is through follow up and interrogation of the All Our Families cohort of over 3200 mother - child pairs. The children are now approximately 8 years of age.
My current projects focus on investigating how we can identify factors as early as possible that put children and mothers at risk of poor outcomes, such as behaviour and mental health problems.We are specifically intrigued by our findings that use of low cost community resources and social support can improve outcomes for children exposed to poor maternal mental health.
Ideally, the outcomes of my research will lead to earlier identification of children and families at risk of problems that could be mitigated by strategic investments in public and community programs.
Keith Yeates, Psychology
My research is focused on better understanding the outcomes of childhood brain injury and influences on recovery.
My current projects focus on predicting the outcomes of childhood concussion from both neurobiological (e.g., genetics, neuroimaging) and psychosocial (e.g., psychological resilience, parent response to symptoms) factors, and also on the implementation of clinical pathways for the acute care of pediatric concussion.
Ideally, my research will help to foster more effective management and treatment of children with concussion.
Jennifer Zwicker, Kinesiology
My research platform focuses on policy issues related to persons living with developmental disabilities (DD). Using economic evaluation and policy analysis, I address policy considerations around allocation of funding, services and supports for children and youth with DD, and evaluating the socioeconomic impact of inter ventions for children with DD and their families.
Specifically, my research program is focused on better understanding experiences across the life course of persons with DD and mental health comorbidities and assessing how interventions can efficiently meet the needs of individuals and their families.
The outcome of our research will improve understanding of the socioeconomic impact of a child having a DD from a life course perspective.This is important for informing policy development to address unmet needs and seek to improve the economic and social outcomes of individuals and their families.
Gabrielle Wilcox, Education
My research is centered on school-based mental health, interventions to support students with mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders, and supporting successful transition to adulthood.
My current projects focus on the impact of providing cognitive educational neuroscience training to teachers on teacher and student outcomes and combining non-invasive brain stimulation and cognitive/behavior to improve outcomes (e.g., Tourette syndrome, reading difficulties).
Ideally, my research will result in supporting students to be successful in school and life both during their k-12 education and as they transition to adulthood.