April 19, 2021

Eight innovative cross-cutting teams across UCalgary awarded grants for child health and wellness

Community-partnered research a key area of focus to accelerate outcomes for children
Child Health and Wellness Grand Challenge Catalyst grants across UCalgary Colourbox

A unique partnership between the University of Calgary and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation has fueled the first round of Child Health and Wellness Grand Challenge Catalyst grants across the University of Calgary. Thirty-three teams of researchers submitted proposals that will bring the cross-cutting Child Health and Wellness Research Strategy to life.

“The Child Health and Wellness Grand Challenge Catalyst Grants support work across the spectrum of child health research,” says Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research). “What they have in common is a commitment to advance discoveries, treatments and outcomes for families in our community. We are grateful for this catalyzing partnership with the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.”

Eight interdisciplinary teams received research awards including: interrupting toxic stress in Indigenous youth; uncovering the root causes of congenital heart disease; reducing suicide in autistic teens; advancing knowledge in cystic fibrosis in children using organoids; and enhancing patient safety through family partnerships. Awards in this first round featured two Branch Awards of $200,000 each, funded through the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, and six Seedling Awards of $50,000 each, funded by the University of Calgary Vice-President (Research).

These grants arrive during a rise in COVID-19 transmission in our community. Although not focused on the pandemic, many of the projects will address the most pressing health and social needs facing children and families. Closely partnering with AHS, these powerhouse teams are investigating new treatments, diagnoses and ways to promote healthy outcomes – in many cases by working directly with families and community partners.

One of the community-partnered projects, led by Dr. Brent Hagel, PhD, professor, Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), is identifying key indicators for children. “Alberta does not have indicators of child health and well-being. We will work on addressing this gap by developing indicators through consensus and identifying evidence-based policies and prevention strategies to improve child health and well-being,” says Hagel.

Co-led by Dr. Jennifer Zwicker, PhD, from the School of Public Policy, the team of 10 scientists from Kinesiology, Social Work, Psychology, the Werklund School of Education, and CSM is collaborating with 14 community partners.

“We are happy to lend our expertise to identifying policy and service gaps that need to be addressed to improve resiliency for vulnerable children and families,” says Joanne Pitman, superintendent at the Calgary Board of Education and a community partner with the project. “Working collectively with the research team and other stakeholders represents an opportunity to effect positive change and improve Canada’s status in child and family well-being.”

“There are many dimensions of child well-being that require measurement and monitoring as we aim to improve outcomes for Canadian children, youth and families,” says Nicky Lewis, CEO of Kids Brain Health Network — another valued community partner.

“We are so grateful to the University of Calgary and our generous community for investing in these brilliant teams to drive research that helps children and families to thrive,” says Dr. Susa Benseler, MD, PhD, director of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute. "We are deeply thankful that more than four decades of community partnership are fueling our passionate community of scholars.” 

Catalyst awards are designed to propel new, interdisciplinary research teams toward solving grand challenges for children and families and increasing competitiveness for larger-scale external funding opportunities. The second round of applications is expected to open this summer.

Child Health and Wellness
The University of Calgary is driving science and innovation to transform the health and well-being of children and families. Led by the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, top scientists across campus are partnering with Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, and our community to create a better future for children through research.