July 3, 2024

UCalgary team develops global online hub for adverse childhood experiences research

ACEs Hub website helps inform policy and health decisions
Two people walk towards the camera
Sheri Madigan, left, and Tyler Williamson at Foothills Campus. Nathan Rogers

In the past few years, research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) has grown tremendously as researchers uncover the long-term physical and mental health effects of these experiences.

This surge in scholarly output makes it difficult for policy-makers and health-care professionals to keep track of the latest findings and trends in the field.

Recognizing this challenge, University of Calgary professors Dr. Sheri Madigan, PhD, and Dr. Tyler Williamson, PhD, developed ACEs Hub, a one-stop shop of all the research that currently exists on how adverse childhood experiences impact health.

Understanding ACEs

ACEs encompass a range of traumatic events that occur in childhood such as abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. Research has consistently shown that these experiences can contribute to a host of negative health outcomes, including mental illness, chronic disease and substance abuse.

A woman with long blonde hair wearing a white doctor coat

Sheri Madigan

Courtesy Sheri Madigan

“What we know is adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, tend to be strongly related to the difficult experiences someone might have later in life in terms of their physical and mental health,” says Madigan, a professor in psychology in the Faculty of Arts and a Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Child Development.

“We’ve also learned that as the number of ACEs increases, the relationship with negative health outcomes also increases.”

Building ACEs Hub

ACEs Hub was created to make data more accessible, says Williamson, BSc’05, PhD’11, a professor in biostatistics in the Cumming School of Medicine and director of the Centre for Health Informatics.

“So, if you’re a policy-maker, decision-maker or a clinician, you can quickly visit the site and get the relevant information that you might need to either provide better care to your patient or to inform a decision that you need to make.”

A man wearing a suit jacket

Tyler Williamson

Jared Sych

To facilitate data accessibility, the website features an intuitive interface that enables users to interact with the data such as exploring results by author, institution, country, and year published.

“The site allows you to easily interact with the data,” says Williamson. “It allows you to synthesize and summarize all research information on a particular subject and narrow it down through a toggle function.”

Williamson adds to ensure the data on the site is always current, ACEs Hub will be updated annually.

Impact on policy and health

Visitors to the site will be able to deepen their knowledge and understanding about ACEs and their impact on health.

“We hope that ACEs Hub will be the bridge between staying current in everything happening in ACEs research and the needs of what decision-makers and providers have out in the community,” says Williamson.

Adds Madigan: “By coming to our site, you can get science-backed information on ACEs and deepen your knowledge and understanding of what these experiences mean for health and functioning.”

Nancy Mannix, the chair and patron of the Palix Foundation, says the researchers have created a platform for policy-makers, other researchers and clinicians to access data in a meaningful way. 

“Sheri, Tyler and their team have assimilated, validated and catalogued what the data was saying from around the world about our human experiences and we’re now able to better understand more about how things that happen to us as kids effect our capacities as adults,” says Mannix. 

“With the help and support of academics to provide the best evidence to facilitate, positive change is at our doorstep right now. There’s more to do, but we’re really on the right track.”

Philanthropic support

The ACEs Hub website was made possible through a generous donation from an anonymous donor, as well as support from the Calgary Health Foundation, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation (through the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute  and the Owerko Centre for Neurodevelopment and Child Mental Health), UCalgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, Faculty of Arts, and Office of the Vice-President (Research). 

“While this is a research-focused solution, it’s a community-driven response,” says Williamson. “Having partners out in the community that that support our work, that see the value of our work is really validating to the work that we do. It also means that we can be more, do more and achieve more through their support.”

Madigan says," We were really fortunate to receive an anonymous donation towards this project and to make it a reality.”

And thanks to the generous philanthropic support received for this project, Madigan and Williamson were able to come together and leverage their areas of expertise in a true example of transdisciplinary research to create ACEs Hub.

Sheri Madigan is a professor in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts and a member of the Alberta Children's Research Institute, the Owerko Centre for Neurodevelopment and Child Mental Health, the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and the Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education at the Cumming School of Medicine. She is a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Child Development. 

Tyler Williamson is a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). He is the director of the Centre for Health Informatics and a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, Libin Cardiovascular Institute and Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the CSM.

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