Feb. 25, 2022

UCalgary researchers receive $2.4M CIHR Health Research Training Platform grant

National training program to address health and well-being of women and girls 1 of 4 UCalgary research projects receiving grants

There are fundamental sex-based biologic differences related to health and illness, yet medicine has traditionally framed the presentation of disease experienced by cis-gender men to be the “typical” one.

As a result, there has been a lack of consideration for the unique needs and requirements of females, women and people who identify as gender minorities with respect to health research and clinical care. 

Researchers at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine have teamed up with a multidisciplinary group of researchers from across Canada to address these concerns head on.

The team has created a national interdisciplinary training program, Guiding interdisciplinary Research On cis- and trans-gender Women’s and girls health and Wellbeing (GROWW), designed to bring together clinical and graduate trainees, postdoctoral scholars, early career researchers (ECRs), established researchers, and professionals from within and outside of academia with a shared passion and interest in girls’ and women’s health and well-being.

The program recently received a $2.4 million CIHR Health Research Training Platform grant to support the project, which is being led by the University of Calgary, alongside two other Canadian sites: McMaster University and the University of Regina.

Collaboration, experiential learning

The project is one of four from UCalgary to receive this funding, totaling over $9 million. HRTP funding will embed early career researchers and trainees in collaborative health research teams with the goal of increasing their career prospects and building Canadian health research capacity.

“Those who train under these new programs will benefit tremendously from the experiential learning opportunity that they provide,” says Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research).

“High-quality mentorship and training prepares our next generation of health leaders, who will lead efforts and initiatives to improve the health of all Canadians.”

Amy Metcalfe

Amy Metcalfe.

The project has four leads: Dr. Jennifer Gordon from the University of Regina, Dr. Ryan Van Lieshout, MD, PhD, from McMaster University, Dr. Amy Metcalfe, PhD, from the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), and Dr. Erin Brennand, MD, also from the CSM.

Brennand is excited about the project, which will address women’s health across the lifespan in a broad number of areas including family mental wellness, sexual and reproductive health, and health services and population-based approaches to wellness.

“Our training program welcomes individuals interested in women’s health from all disciplines,” says Brennand, explaining the first cohort will include 20 individuals from across Canada who will work with mentors both within their discipline and the academic world for two years.

“Everyone who takes part in our training program will have a baseline understanding of what the key issues are so they can incorporate these considerations into their research.”

Interdisciplinary benefits

This component of the training program will include a formal, custom training program and mentorship program, which will include mentors from a wide span including economics, history, sciences, social sciences and medicine, including researchers, clinicians and non-academic professionals.

Metcalfe, an associate professor in the Cumming School of Medicine, is excited about the networking opportunities the training program will afford.

“As researchers, we are moving away from the idea that one person can do it all,” she says. “Having a team-based approach to research, with individuals with different, but complementary, interests can set researchers in a direction they may not have gone before.

We believe that being involved in this training program will change the way a young researcher thinks about science for the rest of their career.

The second component of GROWW is an open-access program accessible to anyone interested in women’s and girls’ health and well-being. The idea is to create a free, online resource for all Canadians.

“This is going to be a lot of fun,” says Metcalfe. “My involvement has already given me the chance to talk to people I otherwise wouldn’t have and has helped me to think differently about my own research.”

In addition to Metcalfe, several other UCalgary researchers will be involved in the training program, including Dr. Sofia Ahmed, MD, the program’s equity diversity and inclusion (EDI) champion and lead of the program’s EDI Committee. 

For more information on the training program, contact Metcalfe at amy.metcalfe@albertahealthservices.ca.

The four projects to receive CIHR HRTP funding:

  • Alliance against Violence and Adversity (AVA): Health and Social Services Research Training Platform for System and Population Transformations in Girls’ and Women’s Health, led by Dr. Nicole Letourneau, PhD (Faculty of Nursing)
  • GROWW (Guiding interdisciplinary Research On cis- and trans-gendered Women’s and girls health and Wellbeing), led by Dr. Amy Metcalfe, PhD (Cumming School of Medicine)
  • Empowering Next-generation Researchers in perinatal and Child Health (ENRICH), led by Dr. Susan Samuel, PhD (Cumming School of Medicine)
  • Health Research Training to Address Vascular Contributions to Cognitive Decline: the Vascular Training (VAST) Platform, led by Dr. Eric Smith, PhD (Cumming School of Medicine)

Amy Metcalfe is an associate professor in the Departments of Medicine, Community Health Sciences and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Cumming School of Medicine. She is a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

Erin Brennand is an associate professor in the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Community Health Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine. She is a member of the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute and the O'Brien Institute for Public Health.