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Funding boost for U of R health researchers to address inequities and knowledge gaps

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: July 15, 2020 9:00 a.m.

Dr. Cheryl Camillo received a $102,660 SHRF Establishment Grant to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the free provincial breast cancer screening program.
Dr. Cheryl Camillo received a $102,660 SHRF Establishment Grant to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the free provincial breast cancer screening program. Photo: Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy

In Saskatchewan, fewer than 40 per cent of eligible women go for their free screening mammograms through the Screening Program for Breast Cancer, and that participation rate has been steadily declining. 

Early detection of breast abnormalities saves lives. To improve public health, Dr. Cheryl Camillo is collaborating with the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, patient partners, and community organizations to find out more about why eligible women don’t participate in the screening program. For example, are they receiving mammograms elsewhere?

“Once we understand why women aren’t going for free mammograms, our patient-oriented research team will provide the Cancer Agency with information they can use to increase participation rates. Our goal is to improve early detection and follow-up care,” Camillo says. 

Camillo, an assistant professor at the University of Regina’s Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, received $102,660 from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) for her project, Maximizing Saskatchewan Breast Cancer Screening Program Rates through Patient-Partnered Research. 

Camillo, along with three other University of Regina health researchers, received a total of $462,568 from the SHRF’s Establishment Grants program, which provides funding for research that will improve the health and well-being of people in Saskatchewan.

“The Cancer Agency doesn’t have comprehensive data about why eligible women don’t get screened, nor whether participation rates vary by cultures, economic status, ethnicity, or geographic location. Our work will help to address these gaps in knowledge,” explains Camillo. “And the information we discover will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the provincial program by co-developing new and/or revised outreach strategies and program features based on what the team finds are barriers to screening.” 

There is also little data available about the health and well-being of Indigenous men in the province.

Dr. Elizabeth Cooper, assistant professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, received $119,911 from SHRF for her project, Nurturing Warriors: Understanding Mental Wellness and Health Risk Behaviours among Young Indigenous Men. 

“Little is known about the health behaviours of Indigenous youth in Canada. Less is known about young Indigenous men. Information about Indigenous fathers is virtually non-existent,” says Cooper. “My project–a community-driven, Saskatchewan-based study–seeks to change this.” 

Cooper says she hopes the research will help highlight the voices and experiences of young Indigenous men and their families in Saskatchewan, and that the findings will be used to propose improvements to the health-care system and supports that Indigenous peoples receive. 

Dr. Shela Hirani, associate professor in the Faculty of Nursing, received funding to discover more about the factors that directly and indirectly affect immigrant mothers’ breastfeeding practices in Saskatchewan. 

“While a mother’s milk is a complete source of nutrition for infants, immigrant mothers in this province are at high risk to discontinue breastfeeding if they lack access to adequate supports,” says Hirani. 

Hirani received $120,000 from SHRF to identify gaps in existing programs and initiatives available to promote, protect, and support the breastfeeding practices of immigrant mothers in Saskatchewan, which will include seeking recommendations directly from the mothers. 

The aim of the project, Facilitators and Barriers to Breastfeeding Practices of Immigrant Mothers in Saskatchewan, is also to help health-care providers, policy makers, and health-care settings in Saskatchewan develop breastfeeding supports that protect the breastfeeding practices of immigrant mothers and improve the well-being of their young children. The project will also serve as a baseline study for future Baby-Friendly Initiative (BFI) projects with immigrant mothers in Saskatchewan. 

Finally, as Type 2 diabetes (T2D) continues to rise in Canada, with Saskatchewan having the highest rate per capita, SHRF provided $119,997 in funding to Dr. Julia Totosy de Zepetnek to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of a new Diabetes Management Program developed by the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA). 

Totosy de Zepetnek, assistant professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, has partnered with the Chronic Disease Prevention and Management team at the SHA to determine how this novel and freely available Diabetes Management Program can improve cardiometabolic health (e.g., insulin sensitivity and artery health), food intake regulation (e.g., caloric overconsumption), and quality of life. 

Totosy de Zepetnek will also explore interrelationships between lifestyle factors (diet and exercise) and T2D pathophysiology. 

“For example, a person’s gut microbiome is directly impacted by their lifestyle behaviours, but little is known regarding how poor diet and physical inactivity are related to the gut bacterial community structure and bacterial types in the progression of T2D,” explains Totosy de Zepetnek. “This work has the potential to alter rehabilitation and impact how healthcare is delivered to persons with diabetes, ultimately decreasing deaths and improving quality of life.” 

Dr. Kathleen McNutt, Vice-President (Research), says that the work these University of Regina researchers are conducting has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of people in Saskatchewan. 

“SHRF is providing valuable resources to our University researchers who are now able to establish important research programs that will go far to address health inequities that exist in our province, as well as to provide new knowledge in areas that will save lives and close gaps that currently exist,” says McNutt. 

Patrick Odnokon, SHRF chief executive officer, says SHRF is committed to supporting Saskatchewan talent to find home-grown solutions to the province’s health challenges. 

“These four early-career women scientists can be proud that they are continuing the reputation of excellence and impact that the University of Regina is known for as they investigate topics that hold relevance for Saskatchewan people,” says Odnokon. 

SHRF Establishment Grants assists researchers who are new or newly resident in Saskatchewan in establishing an independent program of health research in the province and achieve the research productivity necessary to obtain major funding from national and other external agencies. 

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