Women’s Health Scholars tackling ovarian cancer, mental health issues

Ovarian cancer patients and those dealing with mental health issues are among the women whose lives could be transformed by research being carried out by this year’s recipients of the Women’s Health Scholars Awards.

Two McMaster researchers are among the ten distinguished Ontario university scholars chosen to receive the 2018-19 Women’s Health Scholars Awards, earning scholarships of up to $50,000 to continue their important research to improve the health and well-being of women.

The awards are funded by the Ontario government and administered by the Council of Ontario Universities.

“It is inspiring to see the work these university scholars are doing and the difference it will make to the lives of women in Ontario and beyond,” said David Lindsay, President and CEO of the Council of Ontario Universities. “Their research will, for example, examine ways to harness the body’s immune system to kill ovarian cancer turnours, help women with gestational diabetes avoid developing Type-2 diabetes, and contribute to improved services for mothers living with HIV.

“This outstanding work reflects Ontario universities’ commitment to partnering to conduct innovative research on new treatments and better services, train the highly-skilled professionals that deliver high-quality care, and improve the health and well-being of the people of Ontario.”

Sophie Poznanski, PhD student in the Medical Sciences program at McMaster University

Sophie Poznanski’s project will study how ‘natural killer’ (NK) cells in the body’s immune system could be deployed to overcome ovarian cancer tumours’ ability to suppress attacks, potentially leading to improved treatments for this most deadly of cancers.

Each year, around 25,000 North American women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and more than 50 percent of them do not survive five years, largely due to the cancer’s ability to avoid detection until the late stages.

Sophie’s research will examine ways of expanding the power of a patient’s own NK cells, including the use of antibody therapies, to overcome the cancer’s anti-immune properties.

This could lead to improved outcomes for ovarian cancer patients and add new knowledge to the growing field of NK cell therapy.

Irene Vitoroilis, postdoctoral fellow at the Offord Centre for Child Studies in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University

Irene Vitoroulis’ research focuses on understanding risks to mental health, and the factors that can protect against them, among adolescent immigrants and refugees. In particular, she is investigating the prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders among teenage girls from refugee and immigrant backgrounds, and the extent to which social stressors and family processes contribute to a higher risk of mental health issues.

Depressive disorders are the leading cause of non-fatal burden of disease worldwide, with girls three times more likely to be affected than boys.

Irene’s research aims to identify vulnerable sub-groups of a refugee and immigrant girls who are at risk, and help lead to approaches tailored specifically to girls. It also examines the effects of social processes in school, and how negative peer interactions (such as bullying) and positive experiences (e.g. support, safety) contribute to migrant youth’s psychosocial adjustment.

For more information on the award-winning researchers working to improve women’s health and well-being, click here.

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