Women and children have long been overlooked and underfunded when it comes to health research. That fact was the driving force behind the 2006 genesis of WCHRI.
Short for the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute, insiders pronounce the acronym WICK-er-ee, and there are a number of funders behind it, namely the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation, Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation the University of Alberta and Alberta Health Services.
WCHRI is the only combined research institute focusing on women’s (including maternal and perinatal) and children’s health. With a web of research and care professionals at the Royal Alex, the Lois Hole Hospital for Women, the Stollery and the University of Alberta Hospital, it boasts 350 members devoted to women’s and children’s health concerns, ranging from chronic pediatric illnesses to mature women’s health.
Women's worth in health care exists apart from the realm of maternal health.
Its director, Dr. Sandy Davidge, says WCHRI represents just the tip of the iceberg of the potential depth and breadth of women’s health, especially at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women. “With a research-oriented hospital – which is what we’re striving for – women get the best care. We’re at the forefront of knowledge and the forefront of clinicians working hand-in-hand with scientists for the best available medicines and procedures,” says Davidge, who’s also the Canada Research Chair in Maternal and Perinatal Cardiovascular Health.
In addition to three endowed chairs in women’s health, WCHRI supports research excellence through grants, ranging from graduate work to summer studentships, and WCHRI supports the recruitment and retention of the best and the brightest minds in research.
And it translates to better health care for Alberta women. “Through our research and our programs, we have been able to look at better ways to improve the health of women in the community,” Davidge explains. “We have three endowed chairs in the areas of mature women’s health, women’s health focusing on maternal, and then (in a partnership) ovarian cancer. We need to see the research behind women’s health to understand the best way to treat or prevent disease.”
Recent initiatives to receive WCHRI support include Davidge’s own study looking at the link between babies who have complicated births and who later in life experience obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Acknowledging this potential connection may help prevent chronic diseases down the road. But that’s just one of myriad WCHRI studies focusing on pregnancy. “One of the things we’ve been working on in general is looking at healthy pregnancies and health outcomes,” Davidge notes. “To lead to better therapies, we are looking at how the body adapts to pregnancy and what can go wrong in conditions such as preeclampsia.” Other research includes Drs. John Mackey and Ing Swie Goping’s work towards personalizing chemotherapy for breast cancer patients.
More than just a health consortium, WCHRI is a medium designed to bring bench work to the bedside and the community and back, says Davidge. “If you are sick, where do you want to go? You want to go to a research-intensive hospital for up-to-date, current care. Because we have WCHRI, we are able to make sure we focus on the health needs of women.”
And women are more than just baby carriers, so recent WCHRI research encompasses all aspects of women’s health. “We actually do research in all women’s health issues, whether that is mental health, mature women’s health issues, or uro-gynecological issues,” says Davidge. “We are the only combined women’s-maternal-perinatal-child health research institute. We’ve been able to cover the spectrum because of the vision and the partnership.”
For more information on WCHRI please visit their website.