March 14, 2024

UCalgary Nursing announces second CIHR Research Chair on infant feeding

Dr. Merilee Brockway, BN’04, PhD’19 is named Calgary Research Chair for Early Life Exposures and Child Health Outcomes
Dr. Merilee Brockway, BN’04, PhD’19
Dr. Merilee Brockway, BN’04, PhD’19

UCalgary Nursing assistant professor Dr. Merilee Brockway, BN'04, PhD'19 was recently announced as the second UCalgary Nursing CIHR Research Chair. Brockway, who focuses on infant feeding, specifically breast milk and donor human milk’s impact on health outcomes for vulnerable infants with adverse early life exposures, is the Canada Research Chair for Early Life Exposures and Child Health Outcomes. 

Brockway’s research centres on the early months of a baby’s life when the establishment of their microbiome is key to the development of their neurological, immune, metabolic and endocrine systems. She is only one of a select few nurses in North America who is doing research on the microbiome.  

“I'm examining the developing infant microbiome, looking particularly at early life exposures such as how babies are delivered, if it's vaginally or caesarean section, if they're exposed to antibiotics and how they're fed,” she says. “Those are three primary components of how their microbiome develops.” 

Dr. Nancy Moules PhD, professor and associate dean (research) for the faculty says, “We are delighted with this recognition of UCalgary Nursing’s depth of knowledge and research excellence in this area." 

Merilee’s pioneering work in the infant gut microbiome will affect how we look at childhood development in the future. 

Brockway was inspired to pursue this area of research by some of her early nursing practice experiences. “The first time I got to work in postpartum and watch and work with a breastfeeding family was awe-inspiring for me. I was like, ‘This is the coolest thing ever  these babies can live on milk for six months,’” she explains. “I worked to achieve my international board-certified lactation consultant designation and then came back to grad school wanting to do research on breastfeeding. I integrated the breastfeeding aspect of my nursing research into my postdoctoral fellowship in human milk composition and the microbiome  human milk is biochemically related to the microbiome  so now they're bridging together in my program of research.”  

Brockway’s ideal goal for the five-year research chair and beyond is that donor human milk becomes more mainstream and accessible to families who think they have fairly normal or low-risk deliveries. “We now know that early life exposures such as antibiotics and c-section deliveries can have adverse impacts on the developing infant gut microbiome. Exclusive human milk feeding may help to rectify these exposures.” 

The Canada Research Chairs Program stands at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world's top countries in research and development. It invests approximately $311 million per year to attract and retain a diverse cadre of world-class researchers to reinforce academic research and training excellence in Canadian postsecondary institutions.