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About Sickkids
About SickKids

March 18, 2014

SickKids Senior Associate Scientist awarded funding to help improve lives of preterm infants through nutrition

Continuing to focus on innovative paediatric research at SickKids, very low birth weight infants have received much-needed aid from the federal government. This morning, the Canadian Insititutes of Health Research (CIHR) announced $2-million in funding directly benefiting research on helping preterm infants and their families.

Dr. Philip Sherman, Dr. Sharon Unger, Dr. Debbie O'Connor, MP Eve Adams, Joseph Mapa and Dr. Ayelet Kuper at this morning's announcement.

The funding will support the work of Dr. Deborah O’Connor, Senior Associate Scientist and Registered Dietitian, SickKids, and Nutritional Sciences Professor at University of Toronto, as well as Mount Sinai Hospital neonatologist Dr. Sharon Unger. The two leading scientists will examine the long-term impact of feeding donor human milk to very preterm infants on growth, body composition and neurodevelopment, and optimize both donor breast milk and mother’s own milk by investigating different ingredient and nutrient additions.

“Our government is pleased to support Drs. Unger and O’Connor in this initiative. Their research is revolutionizing care for extremely vulnerable babies, by setting new nutritional practices, guidelines and policies that will greatly benefit their health outcomes and quality of life,” said Eve Adams, Parliamentary Secretary to Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health, at this morning’s announcement.

In Canada, the leading cause of infant death and disability is preterm birth, making the importance of optimal nutrition for newborns vital. O’Connor and Unger’s initial research into the role of donor breast milk led to the opening of Ontario’s only milk bank – the Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank, which collects, processes and distributes donor breast milk to NICU’s across Ontario.

“The strength of this research is that it has the potential to be a real game changer in improving neurocognitive development among our most vulnerable babies,” says O’Connor. “I would personally like to thank SickKids for serving as the lead institution on this research.”

This study will be pivotal in setting feeding guidelines for very low birth weight infants in Canada and globally. It also received critical support from the following co-investigators at SickKids: Drs. Sam Doesburg, Jill Hamilton, Steven Miller, Paul Pencharz, Joanne Rovet, Emily Tam, Margot Taylor, Chris Tomlinson and Randi Zlotnik Shaul.