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About Sickkids
About SickKids

Deborah O'Connor, PhD, RD

Research Institute
Senior Associate Scientist
Translational Medicine

University of Toronto
Professor
Department of Nutritional Sciences


Phone: 416-813-7844
Email: Deborah_L.OConnor@sickkids.ca

Brief Biography

Dr. Deborah (Debbie) O’Connor completed her undergraduate training at the University of Guelph and her M.Sc. and PhD in Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois. She completed her clinical dietetic training at Kingston General Hospital. Prior to arriving in Toronto, Debbie was an Associate Professor in the Division of Applied Human Nutrition at the University of Guelph and then at Ohio State University and was the senior group leader of the Premature Infant Nutrition group at Abbott Laboratories in Columbus, Ohio. Debbie served as the Director of Clinical Dietetics at The Hospital for Sick Children from 2000 to 2012 and then the Associate Chief of Academic Professional Practice until 2013.  She is a member of Dietitians of Canada, the International Society for Research on Human Milk and Lactation, the Canadian Society of Nutritional Sciences and the American Society of Nutritional Sciences.

Research Interests

Our research program is currently focused on three areas of maternal and infant nutrition. First, we are interested in assessing the folate status of Canadians with an emphasis on women.  Folate is one of the B-vitamins and inadequate blood levels can increase a woman’s risk of having an infant with a birth defect, specifically a neural tube defect.   We continue to investigate the role that bacterial biosynthesis of folate in the colon plays on the folate status of humans. Second, we are very actively investigating the use of donor human milk for very low birth weight infants when mothers’ own milk is in short supply.  We believe using donor human milk as a supplement to mothers’ own milk during initial hospitalization may improve the long-term neurocognitive outcomes of these vulnerable infants.  Finally, we have been examining the relationships between metabolic status (normoglycemia, gestational diabetes) of women during pregnancy on breast milk hormone composition. It is well known that maternal diet and metabolic status may program off-spring in utero for adult diseases later in life. We are interested whether early diet, and specifically breast milk composition, could do the same.     

External Funding

  • 2013-2018 Canadian Institutes of Health Programmatic Grant In Foods and Health. Nominated PI with S Unger PI and Co-investigators S Doesberg, C Fusch, J Hamilton, S Innis,  S Miller, P Pencharz, J Rovet, P Shah, A Stintzi, E Tam, M Taylor, C Tomlinson, R Zlotnik Shaul
    Project:  Optimizing Mothers’ Milk for Preterm Infants.
  • 2013-2016 Canadian Institutes of Health Research Operating Grant.  Nominated PI with S Unger PI and Co-investigators A Kiss, D Mack, G. Moreno Hagelsieb, P Shah, P Sherman,  A Stintzi
    Project:
    Impact of feeding type and nutrient fortification on the gut microbiome of very low birth weight infants.
  • 2013-2015 Physicians’ Services Incorporated Operating Grant.  PI with S Unger Nominated PI and Co-investigators A Kiss, D Mack, G. Moreno Hagelsieb, P Shah, P Sherman,  A Stintzi
    Project:
    Impact of feeding type and nutrient fortification on the gut microbiome of very low birth weight infants.
  • 2012 Canadian Institutes of Health Research Programmatic Grant In Foods and Health: Application Development.  Nominated PI with S Unger PI and Co-investigators S Doesberg, Jill Hamilton, S Miller, P Pencharz, J Rovet, P Shaw, A Stintzi, M Taylor, C Tomlinson
    Project: Optimizing Mothers’ Milk for Preterm Infants.
  • 2012-2017 Canadian Institutes of Health Team Grant: Childhood Cancer – Late Effects of Treatment.  PI with S ito [Nominated PI] and S Guger, J Hitzler, R Schachar, B Spiegler, R Weksberg
    Project:
    Neurocognitive-Phenome, Genome, Epigenome and Nutriome In Childhood leukemia Survivors: N-PhenoGENICS.
  • 2010-2013 Canadian Institutes of Health Operating Grant.  PI with YI Kim [Nominated PI] and Co-investigators: H Berger, A Lausman
    Project:  Effects of prenatal folate exposure on DNA methylation in newborn infants.
  • 2010-2015 Canadian Institutes of Health Research Operating Grant.  Nominated PI with S Unger (PI) and S Gibbins S (PI) and Co-investigators E Asztalos, A Kiss, J Rovet, C Westall, J Zupancic.
    Project:
     Donor human milk versus preterm formula as a substitute for mothers’ own milk for feeding VLBW infants.
  • 2010-2015 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant Sole PI
    Project:  
    The physiological significance of microbial synthesized folate and the impact of dietary manipulation on uptake.

Achievements

  • 2000 Pinnacle Award of Excellence, Ross Products    Division, Abbott Laboratories
  • 1998 Chairman’s Award, Abbott Laboratories
  • 1997 Alumni Medal of Achievement, University of Guelph Alumni Association

Publications

Chan YM, Bailey R, O’Connor DL: Folate. Advances in Nutrition 4(1):123-5, 2013.

Lapillonne A, O’Connor DL, Wang D, Rigo J. Nutritional recommendations for the late-preterm infant and the preterm infant after hospital discharge. Journal of Pediatrics 162(Supplement 3):S90-100, 2013.

O’Connor DL, Unger S. Post-discharge nutrition of the breastfed preterm infant. Seminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.siny.2013.05.001, 2013.

O’Connor DL, Picciano MF:  Lactation.  In:  Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, edited by Ross AC,  Caballero B, Cousins R, Tucker KL, Ziegler TR. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Chapter 53,  pg 698-771, 2013.

Gibbins S, Wong S, Unger S, O’Connor DL.  Donor human milk for preterm infants: practice considerations. Journal of Neonatal Nursing 19(4):175-181, 2013.

Tam C, O’Connor DL, Koren G:   Circulating unmetabolized folic acid: relationship to folate status and effect of supplementation. Obstetrics and Gynecology International 2012:485179. doi: 10.1155/2012/485179. Epub 2012 Feb 19.

Ley SH, Hanley AJ, Sermer M, Zinman B, O’Connor DL:  Association of prenatal metabolic abnormalities with insulin and adiponectin concentrations in human milk.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 95(4):867-74, 2012.

Shakur YA, Tarasuk V, Corey P, O’Connor DL:   A comparison of the micronutrient inadequacy and risk of high micronutrient intakes among vitamin and mineral supplement users and non-users in Canada. Journal of Nutrition 142(3):534-40, 2012.

O’Connor DL, Weishuhn K, Rovet J, Mirabella G, Jefferies A, Campbell DM, Asztalos E, Feldman M, Whyte H, Westall C on behalf of the Post-Discharge Feeding Study Group:   Visual development of human milk–fed preterm infants provided with extra energy and nutrients after hospital discharge. Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition 36(3):349-353, 2012

 Pichardo D, Luginbuehl IA, Shakur Y, Wales P, El-Sohemy A, O’Connor DL:  Effect of nitrous oxide exposure during surgery on homocysteine concentrations of children.  Anesthesiology  117(1):15-21, 2012.

Colapinto CK, O’Connor DL, Dubois L, Tremblay MS.  Prevalence and correlates of folic acid supplement use in Canada.  Health Reports 23(2): June,  2012

Colapinto CK, O’Connor DL, Dubois L, Tremblay MS:  Folic acid supplement use is the most significant predictor of folate concentrations in Canadian women of childbearing age.  Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism  37(2):284-92, 2012.  

Colapinto C, O’Connor DL, Tremblay M:  Folate status of the population in the Canadian Health Measures.  Canadian Medical Association Journal 183(2):E100-6, 2011.

Ley SH, Hanley AJ, Retnakaran R, Sermer M, Zinman B, O’Connor DL:  Effect of macronutrient intake during the second trimester on glucose metabolism later in pregnancy. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 94(5):1232-401, 2011.

Nash A, Dunn M, Asztalos E, Corey M, Mulvihill-Jory B,  O’Connor DL:  Pattern of growth of very low birth weight preterm infants, assessed using the WHO Growth Standards, is associated with neurodevelopment. Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism 36(4):562-9, 2011.

Ley S, MSc, Hanley AJ, Stone D, O'Connor DL:  Effects of pasteurization on adiponectin and insulin concentrations in donor human milk. Pediatric Research Sep;70(3):278-81, 2011.