Agents of Change WCHRI Annual Report 2020-2021

For 15 years WCHRI-supported researchers have been breaking down barriers and exploring research that is transformative not only to women and children’s health, but also important to society as a whole.


A message from the executive director

Many of us spent most of last year working and conducting research remotely. Learning how to adjust to virtual meetings, how to stay connected with our coworkers, friends and family, and socially distancing to follow the recommended restrictions.

Throughout the unprecedented challenges faced over the past year, our members quickly adapted and found ways to continue their research in the lab and in collaboration with clinicians, patients and communities. Read full message

Sandra Davidge

Sandra Davidge

Many of us spent most of last year working and conducting research remotely. Learning how to adjust to virtual meetings, how to stay connected with our coworkers, friends and family, and socially distancing to follow the recommended restrictions.

Throughout the unprecedented challenges faced over the past year, our members quickly adapted and found ways to continue their research in the lab and in collaboration with clinicians, patients and communities.

While celebrating the research achievements of the members of our WCHRI community during the pandemic, we also need to acknowledge the immense impact of COVID-19 on the health and wellbeing of our communities.

At WCHRI, the events of the past year also compelled us to reflect inward to examine our institutional culture and policies. Achieving true equity, inclusion and diversity in society requires a shift in culture, and changing culture is always challenging. We are committed to our role in this process and to being an organizational “agent of change” as we develop our own action and accountability plan for equity, diversity and inclusion.

This year, our annual report highlights the considerable progress of our members whose health research is also working towards this shift in culture. From engaging parents, patients and communities as partners in research to exploring systemic racism and the impacts of colonization on health, these “agents of change” are confronting barriers and conducting research that is transformative not only to women and children’s health, but to the health of our society as a whole.

Thank you to our partners—the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation, Alberta Women’s Health Foundation, Alberta Health Services and the University of Alberta—for continuing to support such critically important research.

Sandra Davidge
Executive Director
Women and Children’s Health Research Institute

Mike House

Mike House

Message from the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation

Changing the future of children’s health through the power of research

At the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation, we talk often about how improving children’s health can change the world.

Whether it’s our donors and community supporters or our University and health care partners, change happens when one person or group determines an idea’s time has come. We recognize that important, progressive change takes time, sometimes decades, for our communities and their most vulnerable populations to benefit. We also know that transformative change—from bench to bedside—will benefit children and their families for generations.

As the primary funder of WCHRI, we’re extremely proud to support the many change agents who are responsible for ground-breaking advancements in research that benefit children’s mental and physical health. Since 2006, we’ve contributed $83 million for children’s health research in northern Alberta to fund sub-specialty training and more than 1,600 pediatric research projects. This includes $5 million over five years to establish the Stollery Science Lab which directly funds award-winning pediatric researchers at WCHRI.

Our board recognizes the power of research to transform children’s health in Western Canada. Innovative discoveries remind all of us, especially the thousands of Stollery families who benefit directly, that research is leading the way to better outcomes for kids and teens from backyards across Alberta and beyond.

We’re honoured to support WCHRI’s commitment to create a brighter future for children and their families. With continued donor investments in research, we can continue to give all kids the best chance to live a long and healthy life.

Mike House
President and CEO
Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation

Sharlene Rutherford

Sharlene Rutherford

Message from the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation

This past year has been—among many other monikers—a year of change.

For many of us, our families, our homes, our jobs, and our businesses changed. Our lives changed. And our perspectives changed.

Fortunately, through the hardship and darkness, there also came light and triumph.

WCHRI’s commitment to advancing health through research never wavered. The brilliant minds at WCHRI marched on with their all-important work, making critical breakthroughs and advancements, and illuminated new understanding of diseases and conditions, along with potential new ways to combat them.

Notably, our foundation made additional funding commitments to ensure progress would continue for many years to come. We are proud to have renewed Dawn Kingston’s role as the Lois Hole Hospital for Women Cross-Provincial Chair in Women’s Mental Health Research. We salute Maria B. Ospina for earning the well-deserved Canada Research Chair in Life Course, Social Environments and Health. Just two of many achievements of which to be proud.

To further cement our collective progress, WCHRI now serves as the core research partner of the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation, a newly-launched pan-provincial healthcare charity aimed at erasing the historical inequities in women’s health and women’s health research. We are honoured to stand beside you in this endeavour and look ahead to amplifying the change we can bring about together.

While these individual achievements are humbling and impressive, we are glad to say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Bit by bit, WCHRI has been uncovering a future changed for the better, not only for us at the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation but also for society. With every discovery made and paper published, we can glimpse another piece of a beautiful mosaic, a brighter world where our loved ones can live longer, healthier, more inclusive lives.

On behalf of the Foundation, including our board of directors and our Chair Zaheer Lakhani, I wish to extend our heartfelt gratitude to the WCHRI team. Your inspiring commitment and aptitude for advancing women’s health is something to be applauded. And as always, we are thankful for the many donors who support us, making our shared vision for women’s health equity a reality.

Sharlene Rutherford
President and CEO
Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation

Bill Flanagan

Bill Flanagan

Message from the University of Alberta

In the context of the University of Alberta, the province of Alberta and the global landscape, the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute is truly a gem.

When I joined the University of Alberta and began my term as president on July 1, 2020, I was delighted to learn more about WCHRI and see firsthand how more than 500 leading researchers from across 13 faculties are working as agents of change.

Born out of a unique and powerful partnership between the University of Alberta, Alberta Health Services, the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation, WCHRI is a remarkable example of research excellence.

For 15 years, WCHRI has been at the forefront of innovation and strengthening research in areas of health that have historically been understudied and underfunded. As one of the University’s flagship institutes, WCHRI has established itself as an international leader in women and children’s health research.

From cutting edge precision health initiatives to exploring Indigenous and immigrant health, WCHRI-supported researchers are transforming women and children’s health.

As we strive towards equity, diversity and inclusion, it is important that we continue breaking down barriers and filling in gaps of knowledge through solid research. These efforts will not only make a positive impact on the lives and futures of women and children, but also contribute to healthy families and communities.

Bill Flanagan
President and Vice-Chancellor
University of Alberta

Verna Yiu and Kathryn Todd

Verna Yiu and Kathryn Todd

Message from Alberta Health Services

Alberta Health Services is a proud partner of the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute. Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed not only our healthcare system and how we interact with patients, but also the ways in which each of us relates to and navigates our world.

But what hasn’t changed during this time is the critical need for continued research. Now, more than ever, we see the importance of research—especially women and children’s health research.

It is this tireless work that continues to drive change through innovation and research, and helps us build a healthcare system that both delivers the highest quality of care for Albertans and improves medical outcomes.

Since our partnership began in 2006, we have seen WCHRI-led research outcomes translated into clinical practice and impact change at a systemic level. From strengthening personalized health care solutions with the recently launched Undiagnosed Disease Program to enhancing our understanding around increased depression and anxiety in pregnant and postpartum mothers during COVID-19, we are breaking down barriers through research and improving the lives of women and children, and their families.

The path to a healthy future for women, children and communities—not only in our province, but worldwide—hinges on the continued power of partnership and collaboration.

Verna Yiu
President and CEO
Alberta Health Services

Kathryn Todd
Vice President, Provincial Clinical Excellence
Alberta Health Services
Member, WCHRI Oversight Board

Brenda Hemmelgarn

Brenda Hemmelgarn

Message from the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry

As Dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry and Chair of the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute Oversight Board, I’m proud to be part of this institute’s drive to innovate and advocate for the best in women and children’s health.

WCHRI is a shining reflection of the culture of intellectual curiosity and discovery upon which the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry and the University of Alberta are built. WCHRI’s robust team of researchers, clinicians, learners and clinician-scientists gather from across multiple faculties, collaborating to share knowledge that will topple the barriers that have traditionally gotten in the way of equity in health. Grounded in teamwork, social accountability and a focus on excellence, and guided by a strong sense of integrity, these agents of change are instrumental in mapping a future of better health for women, children and all of society.

Congratulations on another year of monumental success, from all of us here in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

Brenda Hemmelgarn
Dean, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
Chair, WCHRI Oversight Board

Women and Children's Health Research Institute

We support research excellence dedicated to improving the health and lives of women and children. WCHRI is the only research institute in Canada—and one of the few in the world—to focus on both women’s and children’s health, including perinatal health.

WCHRI was founded in 2006 as a partnership between the University of Alberta and Alberta Health Services, with core funding from the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation. Thanks to our funders’ generosity, we are able to support a broad range of research programs focused on improving health for women and children.

Our vision

To harness the power of research innovation for a healthy future for children and women.

Our mission

WCHRI will foster the brightest minds to discover, innovate and ultimately transform the health of children and women through supporting research excellence.


  • Oversight board
    • Brenda Hemmelgarn (Chair)
      Dean, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry,
      U of A
    • Dianne Balon
      Board of Directors representative,
      Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation
    • Jeff Bryson
      Board of Trustees representative,
      Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation
    • Steven Dew
      (Greta Cummings, Designate)
      Provost & Vice-President Academic,
      U of A
    • Walter Dixon
      (Randy Goebel, Designate)
      Interim Vice-President, Research, U of A
    • Sarah Forgie
      Chair, Pediatrics,
      Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, U of A
    • Judith Hockney
      Senior Operating Officer, Royal Alexandra Hospital, AHS
    • Mike House
      President and CEO,
      Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation
    • Shanthi Johnson
      Dean, School of Public Health, U of A
    • Lawrence Richer
      Vice Dean, Research (Clinical),
      Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, U of A
    • Sharlene Rutherford
      President and CEO,
      Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation
    • Jane Schulz
      Interim Chair, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, U of A
    • Kathryn Todd
      Vice President,
      Provincial Clinical Excellence, AHS
    • Lorne Tyrrell
      Director, Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, U of A
    • Christine Westerlund
      Senior Operating Officer,
      Stollery Children’s Hospital, AHS
    • Ex-officio (non-voting members)
      Sandra Davidge
      Executive Director, WCHRI
    • Todd Alexander
      Associate Director, WCHRI
    • Katherine Sweet
      Director of Strategic Partnerships,
      Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation
  • Finance and operations sub-committee
  • Scientific advisory committee
    • Daniel Benjamin
      Kiser-Arena Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics, Duke University
      Chair, Pediatric Trials Network
      Associate Director, Duke Clinical Research Institute
    • Daniel Goldowitz
      Professor, Department of Medical Genetics, University of British Columbia
      Senior Scientist, Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics, University of British Columbia
    • Annette Majnemer
      Vice Dean, Education, Faculty of Medicine
      Professor, School of Physical & Occupational Therapy, McGill University
      Director, CHILD-BRIGHT Network
    • Patrick McGrath
      Professor, Department of Psychology, Dalhousie University
    • Paula Rochon
      VP Research, Women’s College Hospital
      Professor, Department of Medicine and Institute of Health Policy, Management & Evaluation,
      University of Toronto
      RTO/ERO Chair in Geriatric Medicine
  • Executive director
    • Sandra Davidge
      Executive Director, WCHRI
    • Dr. Sandra Davidge received her bachelor of science from the University of Massachusetts, master of science from Washington State University and her PhD from the University of Vermont. She then continued her training as a postdoctoral fellow at the Magee Women’s Research Institute in Pittsburgh before moving to Edmonton with her husband and two children in 1996. She is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Alberta.
    • As a leader in pregnancy research, Dr. Davidge holds the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Maternal and Perinatal Cardiovascular Health and is a Fellow in the Canadian Academy of Health Science.
    • She has published over 250 scientific articles on her pioneering studies that are focused on understanding the causes on pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction, in order to develop new therapies to improve pregnancy outcomes.
    • Her work further explores strategies to prevent chronic cardiovascular diseases that can arise in children born from complicated pregnancies.
    • She has received international recognition for her innovative research as she mentors the next generation of scientists and clinician-scientists.
    • In 2012, Dr. Davidge was appointed executive director of the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute (WCHRI).
  • Program advisory committee
    • Todd Alexander
      Associate Director, WCHRI
    • Geoff Ball
      Associate Chair, Research, Pediatrics, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
    • Rhonda Bell
      Professor, Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences
      WCHRI Theme Lead for Pregnancy and Developmental Trajectories
    • Margie Davenport
      Associate Professor, Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation
    • Sandra Davidge
      Executive Director, WCHRI
    • Greg Funk
      Professor, Physiology, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry;
      Lead, WCHRI Shared Lab Space
    • Carla Hilario
      Assistant Professor, Faculty of Nursing
    • Lisa Hornberger
      Professor, Pediatrics,
      Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
    • Maria Mayan
      Professor, Faculty of Extension
    • Jacqueline Pei
      Associate Professor, Educational Psychology, Faculty of Education
    • Lesley Pritchard
      Assistant Professor, Physical Therapy, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine
    • Sue Ross
      Cavarzan Chair in Women’s Health Research
      WCHRI Theme Lead for Lifelong Women’s Health
    • Lonnie Zwaigenbaum
      Professor, Pediatrics,
      Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
  • WCHRI operations
    • Sandra Davidge
      Executive Director
    • Todd Alexander
      Associate Director
    • Michelle Bailleux
      Research Grants Director
    • Louanne Campbell
      Director, Operations
    • Breanne Fisher
      Director, Stewardship,
      Communications & Marketing
    • Deb Key
      Administration Lead & Board Secretary
    • Laura Reyes Martinez
      Clinical Research Program Lead, Women’s Health
    • Dory Sample
      Clinical Research Director
    • Tanya Voth
      Program Director
  • Trainee advisory committee
    • Tara Azimi
      PhD candidate, School of Public Health
    • Alyson Campbell
      PhD candidate, Faculty of Nursing
    • Khushmol Dhaliwal
      Masters student, Pediatrics,
      Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
    • Andrea Eaton
      Masters student, Pediatrics,
      Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
    • Qutuba Karwi
      Postdoctoral Fellow, Pediatrics,
      Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
    • Nitya Khetarpal
      Undergraduate student, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
    • Victoria Meah
      Postdoctoral Fellow, Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation
    • Ehsan Misaghi
      MD/PhD candidate, Faculty of Science
    • Katie Mitran
      PhD candidate, School of Public Health
    • Erica Partridge
      PhD candidate, Faculty of Education
    • Nicholas Ruel
      Masters student, Pharmacology,
      Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
    • Fatheema Subhan
      Postdoctoral Fellow,
      School of Public Health
    • Alexa Thompson
      PhD candidate, Laboratory Medicine & Pathology, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
    • Jacqueline Pei (Program Advisory Committee member)
      Professor, Faculty of Education
    • Tanya Voth
      Program director, WCHRI

Research stories 03

Getting childhood health research into the hands of parents

It’s midnight and your four-year-old child is congested and struggling to breathe, with a barky cough. Do you go to the nearest hospital?

Seeking common ground for rare diseases

We’ve all heard the stories: Children suffering from a rare genetic disease and families desperately searching for treatment, tugging on our collective heartstrings and putting a human face on disorders that affect so few and are understood so poorly.

Digging into data, disrupting unhealthy patterns

Like an archaeologist, Maria Ospina sifts through the past to learn about where and how people lived, and then she connects those scenarios to health conditions like depression, asthma and cardiovascular disease.

Transforming the lives of Black children in Canada

The impact of race and racism on the mental health of Black immigrant children in Canada has not been adequately studied, but Edmonton researcher Bukola Salami is working hard to change that.

Building healthy futures in Indigenous communities

Kate Storey is working alongside Indigenous communities across Canada to elevate peer mentoring as a pathway to ‘wholistic’ health—a concept that honours the totality of the person—and wellbeing.

Exploring the connection between COVID-19 and ABO blood groups

When Lori West’s husband became seriously ill with COVID-19 last March, she felt scientifically useless. Although she is one of Canada’s best transplantation researchers, she thought she had nothing to contribute scientifically to the fight against the pandemic.

Empowering women with mental health support

The numbers don’t lie—women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression. Forty seven per cent of women are considered at high risk of developing mental health disorders, compared to 36 per cent of men. Up to a quarter of menopausal women experience severe physical and mental health symptoms.

Financials 04

Statement of operations

For the year ended March 31st, 2021.


  • Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation *
    • $4,076,407
  • Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation *
    • $1,200,050
  • Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, U of A and Other
    • $379,750
  • Cost Recovery
    • $1,065,522
  • Total Revenue
    • $6,721,729
  • * Includes transfers from closed projects & other donations.


  • Research Grants
    • $1,237,988
  • Research Catalysts
    • $1,493,989
  • Research Platforms
    • $1,892,669
  • Donor Designated Initiatives
    • $907,586
  • Administrative Support
    • $743,249
  • Total Expenditure
    • $6,275,481

Invoiced not spent

  • Carry-forward to next fiscal year
    • $446,247


Summer 2020

21 undergraduate students and their projects were supported through the Summer Studentship Program.

June 2020

The inaugural cohort of WCHRI postdoctoral fellows shared the significant progress they made in the first year of their research.

July 2020

Stollery Science Lab Distinguished Researchers shared updates on their work over the past two-years and thanked the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation for their support.

September 2020

The WCHRI Warriors participated in the SHOPPERS.LOVE YOU. Run for Women.

September 2020

WCHRI supported the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation’s virtual Harvest Celebration.

November 2020

More than 350 researchers, students and stakeholders actively participated in our annual Research Day, held virtually this year.

December 2020

WCHRI staff and members attended the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation’s virtual Snowed In event.

February 2021

WCHRI launched a new website, developed based on feedback from our stakeholders.

March 2021

The Alberta Women’s Health Foundation is launched, supporting the advancement of care and research in women's health.