Research with reach

This guest post was first published on the University of Ottawa website and is reposted here with permission.

A baby sleeps on his mother with a pacifier in his mouth.

By Monique Roy-Sole

Medical science has long proven the benefits of taking folic acid for a healthy pregnancy. However, many prenatal supplements sold in Canada contain more than twice the recommended dose of folic acid.

Professor Bénédicte Fontaine-Bisson at uOttawa’s Faculty of Health Sciences and a team of scientists have decided to address this discrepancy. The combination of prenatal supplements and eating foods fortified with folate has led to high blood folate concentrations among pregnant women, raising concerns about possible effects on fetal development.

Over the past three years, Fontaine-Bisson and her team have launched several knowledge mobilization initiatives to bring together scientists, healthcare professionals, policy-makers and industry representatives on this public health issue. Their efforts have led to concerted measures to inform Canadian physicians, an update of Health Canada’s product specifications for prenatal supplements and Nestlé Canada’s decision to reduce the amount of folic acid in Materna®, their popular prenatal supplement.

For such creative endeavours in translating knowledge to practice, Fontaine-Bissonjoins professors Stéphanie Gaudet of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Manisha Kulkarni of the Faculty of Medicine as the first recipients of the University of Ottawa’s Knowledge Mobilization Excellence Award, one of a number of knowledge mobilization initiatives recently established by the Office of the Vice-President, Research. The award honours researchers who have been successful and innovative in promoting the use of research outside academia. Each recipient receives $7,000 to support their knowledge mobilization activities.

“It is increasingly incumbent on universities to encourage and support researchers in translating discovery into action,” said Sylvain Charbonneau, uOttawa’s vice-president, research. “The efforts undertaken by our three first award winners show the tremendous value of promoting new knowledge in the greater community and of involving knowledge users at various levels of the research process.”

To support her research on education and democracy, Professor Stéphanie Gaudet engages community stakeholders at all stages of her projects, from laying out the problems that need solutions to defining objectives. In her latest work, she has forged ties with seven organizations from Gatineau, Montréal and Oka that offer programs to educate children and youth on citizenship and democracy.

Knowledge mobilization activities such as symposia, forums and citizen cafés “have shed light on the phenomenal work that these non-profit organizations do to educate youth and to preserve democratic life,” said Gaudet, who is director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Citizenship and Minorities. This collaborative approach has had a positive effect on the social and political engagement of youth and youth organizations by including them in conversations on issues that affect them.

Integrated knowledge translation is also key to Professor Manisha Kulkarni’s research on identifying areas in and around Ottawa that are at greater risk for Lyme disease and West Nile virus. A professor at the School of Epidemiology and Public Health, Kulkarni works closely with partners such as Ottawa Public Health (OPH) and the National Capital Commission (NCC).

Based on tick surveillance and lab analyses, Kulkarni’s team has developed Lyme disease risk maps across the city that have helped inform OPH on disease risks. These maps have also helped the NCC pinpoint the most important tick habitats and areas of Lyme disease transmission. Kulkarni and her team have subsequently worked with the NCC on pilot projects to reduce tick densities on recreational trails.

“This research provided Ottawa Public Health with evidence for health-care providers that reflected the actual risk in our catchment area,” said Ann Stanton-Loucks of OPH. “This information, in turn, was used to develop current assessment and clinical management of exposures to ticks in Ottawa.”

In addition to the Knowledge Mobilization Excellence awards, the University awarded 10 Knowledge Mobilization Grants to the following uOttawa research centres and institutes:

• Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics

• Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Citizenship and Minorities

• Centre for International Policy Studies

• Centre for Law, Technology and Society

• Centre for Research on Educational and Community Services

• Centre for Research on Health and Nursing

• Centre on Governance

• Human Rights Research and Education Centre

• Institute for Science, Society and Policy

• University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Research Institute

(Learn more about the University’s research centres and institutes.)

A group of students working and talking together in a cercle.
The collaborative approach of Stéphanie Gaudet’s research has had a positive effect on the social and political engagement of youth and youth organizations by including them in conversations on issues that affect them. Photo : AlexandreClaude