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About Sickkids
About SickKids

Maru Barrera, PhD

The Hospital for Sick Children


Research Institute
Senior Associate Scientist
Child Health Evaluative Sciences

University of Toronto
Associate Professor
Population Health Sciences

Associate Professor
Facult of Medicine

Associate Professor
Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology

Associate Professor

Associate Professor
Institute for Medical Sciences

Phone: 416-813-6784
Fax: 416-813-8839
Email: maru.barrera@sickkids.ca

Brief Biography

I have been a Paediatric Health Psychologist with research and clinical interests in the field of paediatric cancer for over 10 years. I am an Associate Scientist in the Population Health Sciences Program at The Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute. Along with my clinical and research commitments I hold academic appointments at the University of Toronto at the Associate Professor level in the following departments: Population Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine; Dept. of Human Development and Applied Psychology, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education; and Institute of Medical Sciences. My most of my clinical and research work is conducted in the Haematology/Oncology program at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).

Clinical Care Activities

  • assessment and treatment of behavioural and emotional problems associated with paediatric cancer diagnosis and treatment
  • program development of evidence-based interventions for children and adolescents treated for cancer, their parents and their siblings
  • bereavement counselling and treatment; consultation to staff and families regarding health promotion and treatment of behaviour and emotional difficulties

Research Interests

  • psychological, social and quality of life outcomes of diagnosis and treatment for paediatric cancer
  • psychological outcomes of paediatric cancer on siblings and parents
  • psychological interventions to reduce distress and promote health after paediatric cancer
  • psychological, academic and quality of life outcomes of stem cell transplantation in the affected children and their parents
  • bereavement in the family after paediatric cancer loss

Research Activities

My major research activities are focused on the impact of paediatric cancer on the child and family’s psychological outcomes and quality of life during treatment and after treatment, including survivorship, end of life and bereavement. Within this scope, I conduct 1) descriptive and 2) intervention research. Additional research interests are described as 3) other research activities.

  1. Descriptive research. I have examined the psychological outcomes of children newly diagnosed with cancer and followed them during their treatment (Barrera et al. 2003). I also examined parental psychological adjustment and factors that contribute to their adjustment (Barrera et al, 2004). I continue to examine psychological outcomes and quality of life prospectively in children and adolescents who undergo a bone marrow or a stem cell transplantation (SCT) and their families, prior to, 6, 12, 24 months post SCT.

    I am also investigating social skills and competence and emotional outcome in survivors of brain tumours. Moreover, approximately 25 per cent of the cases treated for cancer treatment are not cured. Thus, I am investigating quality of life at the end of life and the progression of parental bereavement. This research program has been or is currently funded by MRC (now CIHR), New Initiatives HSCF, Leu Foundation, SEED grant RI, SBCRN, and NCIC. More specific research on long-term survivors within diagnostic groups is currently been done with Hodgkin’s disease in a provincial study involving 5 centers (Funded by POGO) and bone tumour survivors in collaboration with Mount Sinai Hospital, (funded by CIHR). Finally I am examining late psychological effects and quality of life in a national retrospective collaborative study (funded by Health Canada).
  2. Intervention research. Once we identify pattern of risk for poor health behaviour, psychological adjustment or poor social skills and quality of life, the next step is to provide psychological or health promotion interventions. Currently, I'm involved in 4 intervention projects: a) group intervention for siblings of children with cancer, b) social skills training for survivors of brain tumours, c) health promotion intervention that involve massage, humour therapy and relaxation in a sample of children who undergo SCT. This research has been or is currently funded by FCC, BRAIN CHILD, and NCI.
  3. Other research activities. In collaboration with Dr. G. Koren, Motherisk, we have been examining the effects of in utero exposure to a variety of substances such as organic solvents, anti-depressants, anti-epileptic drugs on children. In collaboration with colleagues in other academic settings (U of Toronto, U of Guelph) and the community (Public Health) we have investigated physical activity promotion with healthy children. Finally, a new area of exploration is the utilization of complementary or alternative therapies in paediatric oncology in collaboration with Drs. Vohra, Weitzman, and Boydell.

External Funding

  • 2002 - Psychosocial impact of pediatric bone marrow transplant. NIH (US) PI: Phipps, S; HSC PI: Barrera, M., Cincinnati PI: Vannatta, K. Co-investigators: Bowman, L, Srivastava, D., Loechelt, B., Doyle, J. 2002-2007.(US Dlls.).June 2002-June 2007.
  • 2002 - A longitudinal study of the progression of parent bereavement. Seed Grant, RI, HSC. PI: Barrera, M., D’Agostino, N., Nicholas, D. Schneiderman, G., Tallett, S. 2002-2004.
  • 2001 - Musculoskeletal Neoplasia Research Centre: An interdisciplinary Health Research Team. CIHR. PI: Bell, R., Mount Sinai Hospital. Co-investigators at HSC: Alman, B., Malkin, D., Greenberg, M., & Barrera, M., 2001-2006.
  • 2001 - Knowledge and perceptions of genetic information among pediatric medical specialists. RESTRACOM postdoctoral fellowship for Kaiser, M. Malkin, D., Kaiser, A., Barrera, M. Sept. 2003- Aug. 2005.
  • 2000 - Cognitive restructuring and support to children and families in a narrative format: The adventures of Oliver. HSCF. Co-PIs: Ritvo, P. and Barrera, M. Co-investigators: Brown, L, McDermid, A., Shaw B. June 2001-2004 (extended).
  • 2000 - Social Skills problems in children treated for brain tumours. BRAIN CHILD. PI: Barrera, M. Co-investigators: Spiegler, B., & Baruchel, S. Dec 2000-June 2004.
  • 2000 - Cognitive and psychological late effects and quality of life after pediatric bone marrow trasplantation. NCIC. PI: Barrera, M. Co-investigators: Sumbler, K., Saunders, F., & Armstrong, C. July 2000-June 2004 (extended).
  • 1999 - Increment of children’s physical activity to promote health behaviour. Children and Youth Action. K. Allison, M. Barrera, John Dwyer, & B. Hansen,. June 2001- July 2002.
  • 1999 - The Psychological impact and quality of life of children undergoing bone marrow transplantation and their families. The Elizabeth Leu Bone Marrow Transplant. Foundation PI: M. Barrera. Co-investigator: Dr. Fred Saunders. Jan 2000- Jan 2001.
  • 1999 - Neurodevelopmental effects and structural malformations associated with in utero exposure to organic solvents. PSIF, PI: G. Koren. Co-investigators: Khattak, S., Barrera, M., & Rovet, J. July 1999-December 2001.
  • 1999 - Progression of parental bereavement and factors associated with its outcomes. Sociobehavioural Cancer Research Network. PI: M. Barrera. Co-investigators: Schneiderman, Tallett, Parsons, and Baruchel. Sept. 1999- August 2000.
  • 1999 - Psychological Outcomes and Quality of Life after Paediatric Bone Marrow Transplant. Research Institute. PI: M. Barrera. Co-investigator: F. Saunders. January 1999-June 1999.


Barrera M, D’Agostino N, Gibson J, Weksberg R, Malkin D.(2004) Predictors and mediators of psychological adjustment in mothers of children newly diagnosed with cancer. Psycho-Oncology, 13, 1-12.

Dwyer J, Allison K, Barrera M, Hansen B, Goldenberg E, Boutilier M. (2003). Teachers’ perspective on barriers to implementing physical activity curriculum guidelines for school children in Toronto. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 94(6), 448-452.

Dwyer J, Hansen B, Barrera M, Allison K, Ceolin-Celestini S, Koenig D, Young D, Good M, Rees T. (2003) Maximising children’s physical activity: An evaluability assessment to plan a community-based, multi-strategy approach in an ethno-racially and socio-economically diverse city. Health Promotion International, 18 (3), 199-208

Barrera M, Wayland LA, D’Agostino N, Gibson J, Weksberg R, Malkin D. (2003) Developmental differences in psychological adjustment and health related quality of life in pediatric cancer patients. Children’s Health Care, 12(3), 215-232.

Barrera M, Chung J, Greenberg M, Fleming C. (2002) A preliminary investigation of a group intervention for siblings of pediatric Cancer patients . Children’s Health Care, 31(2), 131-142.

Barrera M, Rykov M, Doyle S. (2002). The effects of interactive music therapy on hospitalized children with cancer: A pilot study. Psycho-Oncology, 10., 1-10

Barrera M, Boyd-Pringle L, Sumbler K, Saunders F. (2000) Children’s quality of life, behavioral adjustment, and their correlates after bone marrow transplantation. Journal of Bone Marrow Transplantation, 26, 427-435

Barrera M. (2000) Brief clinical report: Procedural pain and anxiety management with mother and sibling as co-therapists. Journal of Pediatric Psychology 25, 117-121.

Speechley K, Maunsell E, Desmeules M, Feeny D. Landgraf J, Schanzer D, Barrera M. (1999) Mutual concurrent validity: An exploratory analysis of the child health questionnaire and health utilities index in survivors of childhood cancer. International Journal of Cancer, 12, 95-105.

Khattak S, K-Moghtader G, McMartin K, Barrera M, Kennedy D, Koren,G. (1999) Pregnancy outcome following gestational exposure to organic solvents: A prospective study. Journal of American Medical Association, 281 (11), 1106-1109