Facebook Pixel Code
About Sickkids
About SickKids

SickKids’ Motherisk Program celebrates 20th anniversary

TORONTO - The Motherisk Program at The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) is celebrating 20 years of counselling and research about the safety or risk to the developing baby of maternal exposure to drugs, chemicals, diseases, radiation and environmental agents. Since it was created in 1985, Motherisk has counselled more than 250,000 women. It is the only program of its kind in Canada and one of the most comprehensive in the world.

Lingering reminders of the thalidomide tragedy of the late 1950s and 1960s increased public awareness of the possible risks that drugs and chemicals pose to pregnant women and their unborn children. By the mid-1980s, Sick Kids' Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology was being deluged with calls from both health-care providers and pregnant women.

“We were getting these calls and realized that we didn't have a system to adequately track and assess potential risks,” explains Dr. Gideon Koren, the program's director. “We began Motherisk not only to provide authoritative information and consultation, but also to develop a research and education program in the area of reproductive and developmental toxicology.”

Twenty years later, Motherisk has become an international authority in the area of maternal-fetal toxicology with over 400 scientific papers and 12 medical texts published by team members. The Motherisk team is a multi-disciplinary group of scientists and physicians with expertise in addiction research, clinical pharmacology, genetics, nutrition, obstetrics, preventative medicine and psychology.

Motherisk achievements include:

Motherisk was the first to show that second-hand smoke affects the fetuses of non-smoking women.
Motherisk established the safety of important drugs for the treatment of epilepsy and depression (prozac, lithium), thus allowing thousands of women to continue critical drug therapy during pregnancy.
Motherisk has promoted awareness of the vital importance of folic acid during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, and has found that it may also help to prevent neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system that occurs in children.
Motherisk established the only Canadian research group to conduct laboratory studies on how drugs cross the human placenta.
Motherisk established a research focus on morning sickness and identified that some Canadian women terminate wanted pregnancies because they were not offered approved treatment for their severe morning sickness.
Motherisk established a national research network for fetal alcohol syndrome (FACE-Fetal Alcohol Canadian Expertise).
Motherisk research identified the association between maternal occupational exposure to organic solvents and adverse fetal effects.
Motherisk established the risk of cocaine to the fetus and the prevalence of its use in Toronto.
Motherisk has the only program in the world that counsels women on the safety and risk of drugs in breast milk.
“There is a real need for this research so that there is evidence-based information to give pregnant, planning and breastfeeding women the means to make well-informed choices to give their unborn children the healthiest start possible,” adds Dr. Koren, a senior scientist and clinical pharmacologist at Sick Kids, and a professor of Paediatrics, Pharmacology, Pharmacy and Medicine and Medical Genetics at the University of Toronto.

Current Motherisk research includes:

Determining whether antioxidant supplementation (vitamins C and E) during pregnancy can reduce or even inhibit the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure.
Development of a new way to analyze meconium, a baby's first stool, to determine whether the baby was exposed to alcohol before birth. Meconium testing may some day be used to screen all newborns, and identify those at risk of having Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
Studying the effect of depression medications on the fetus.
Looking at the effects on the fetus of certain medications used to control hypertension and arthritis.
Research into the effect of cancer treatment during pregnancy.
The Motherisk helpline is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. eastern time at 416-813-6780.

Motherisk Update 2005: Motherisk is hosting a medical and research symposium on health and medical conditions during pregnancy on Wednesday, April 20. At the symposium, the Motherisk Breakthrough Award, which recognizes an outstanding contribution to maternal-fetal therapeutics, will be awarded for the first time to Dr. Oded Langer, an expert on diabetes in pregnancy from St. Luke's-Roosevelt Research Hospital Center in New York .

The Hospital for Sick Children, affiliated with the University of Toronto, is Canada 's most research-intensive hospital and the largest centre dedicated to improving children's health in the country. Its mission is to provide the best in family-centred, compassionate care, to lead in scientific and clinical advancement, and to prepare the next generation of leaders in child health.

Also see:

For more information, please contact:

Media Contact
Public Affairs
The Hospital for Sick Children
Phone: 416-813-6380
Fax: 416-813-5328