Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Advancing health research: StFX faculty part of national Health Research Training Platform funding   

March 31st, 2022
L-r, StFX psychology professor Dr. Erin Mazerolle and Rankin School of Nursing professors Dr. Heather Helpard and Dr. Holly Richardson 

To support the health research leaders of tomorrow, the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health, and the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, today announced an investment of $31.1 million over six years to support 13 new Health Research Training Platforms (HRTP), a pilot program that will embed early career researchers and trainees in collaborative health research teams with the goal of increasing their career prospects and building Canadian health research capacity. 

The HRTP is comprised of unique training programs that bring together researchers from different hospitals and universities, with a view to increase Canada’s capacity to conduct research on specific disease areas and health challenges. This will help trainees and early career researchers develop skills that will increase their employability and set them up for success in careers that span academia and beyond. The funding as well as in-kind support is being provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the B.C. Women’s Health Foundation, Egale Canada, Mitacs, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

At StFX, this includes psychology professor Dr. Erin Mazerolle, and Rankin School of Nursing professors Dr. Holly Richardson and Dr. Heather Helpard. 

Dr. Mazerolle will help lead a team researching vascular contributions to cognitive decline and dementia. She is a co-principal applicant of the Vascular Contributions to Cognitive Decline Training (VAST) Platform. Several StFX faculty are involved in this platform as participating mentors. 

Dr. Richardson and Dr. Helpard are part of a platform researching the way we support and promote the health of women and girls affected by adversity and violence. They are part of the Alliance against Violence and Adversity (AVA): Health and Social Services Research Training Platform for System and Population Transformations in Girls and Women’s Health.

Vascular Contributions to Cognitive Decline Training (VAST) Platform 

CIHR announced almost $2.4 million in funding for a Health Research Training Platform to support training and development of students and early career scientists researching vascular contributions to cognitive decline and dementia. The University of Calgary will lead this national platform, under the direction of Dr. Eric Smith. Dr. Erin Mazerolle, St. Francis Xavier University Department of Psychology, is one of four co-principal applicants, which also include researchers from the University of Ottawa, Sunnybrook Research Institute, and the Université de Montréal. 

Seventy-two mentors from 19 universities in seven provinces will provide the training. 

Participating mentors at StFX are Dr. James Hughes and Dr. Jacob Levman, Department of Computer Science, and Dr. Sebastian Harenberg, Department of Human Kinetics.

“Dementia is a major issue for our aging population, but blood flow (or ‘vascular’) contributions to dementia are relatively under-researched. I am excited to help lead this Training Platform, which includes scaffolded, multi-year opportunities for undergraduate students to gain experience in vascular dementia research,” Dr. Mazerolle says.

“Importantly, our platform will also have a major focus on increasing diversity among the vascular dementia researcher workforce.”

The VAST Platform will provide online learning and mentorship opportunities for students and early career researchers across Canada, including funds for 308 stipends for students. Historical under-representation of women, LGBTQ2S+, racialized, and Indigenous persons in science will be addressed by robust strategies for equity, diversity, and inclusion. To put research skills into action, VAST will work with 26 external partner organizations—including charitable organizations, non-profit, and for-profit organizations and companies—to offer experiential learning opportunities for VAST trainees. 

At StFX, VAST has partnered with Service Learning to facilitate trainee placements at aging- and dementia-related organizations in the region, Dr. Mazerolle says.

Alliance against Violence and Adversity (AVA): Health and Social Services Research Training Platform for System and Population Transformations in Girls and Women’s Health

StFX Rankin School of Nursing faculty members Dr. Holly Richardson and Dr. Heather Helpard are part of the Alliance against Violence and Adversity (AVA): Health and Social Services Research Training Platform for System and Population Transformations in Girls and Women’s Health led by Dr. Nicole Letourneau. The Training Platform is receiving almost $2.4 million in funding.  

This “AVA” Training Platform seeks to enable girls and women to rise-up and metaphorically fly free and unencumbered by violence and adversity and honour their lives. AVA is thus consciously named to represent the objective of this proposal—to create capacity to transform population (community) health and social services to promote health and wellness of girls and women at risk/affected by violence and adversity over the life-cycle, via a collaborative, innovative, cross-sectoral/disciplinary/jurisdictional training platform. 

The researchers seek to fill the identified gaps via training to address ACEs and especially family violence, in a collaborative, innovative, barrier-breaking and transformative program to develop national capacity to support girls and women’s health and wellness over the life-cycle, address inequities, and halt intergenerational detrimental outcomes.

“I’m so excited to be part of this CIHR funded training platform, and I’m very much looking forward to working with Dr. Letourneau and her team,” Dr. Richardson says. 

“The Alliance against Violence and Adversity (AVA) Training Platform is a great opportunity to make connections and transform the way we support and promote the health of women and girls affected by adversity and violence. It aims to break the grip and the cycle of violence, raising women and girls up to a place from which they can break free and thrive. This is a great opportunity for our StFX students to be involved in research and training that will make a meaningful contribution to the health and well-being of girls and women in Nova Scotia.” 

Dr. Helpard says the AVA project places a much-needed spotlight on the health and wellness of all girls and women at risk or affected by violence across the lifespan, creating a unique opportunity to transform population and social services innovatively and collaboratively across Canada and within the Atlantic region. 

“This CIHR funded training platform offers research, funding resources, and community mentorship training activities for undergraduate and graduate student trainees at St. Francis Xavier University. Working with Dr. Letourneau and the rest of the team provides an exciting opportunity to develop a robust research and community agency network here at home, nationally, and internationally,” she says.  

This research is, in part, made possible by the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

Start Your Journey