Current Projects

Alberta Birth Common Dataset (ABCD):
Revealing the origins of child development

The ABCD (n=5,400) is created from the All Our Families (AOF; formerly All Our Babies; n=3200) and Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition cohorts (APrON; n=2200). Both of these cohorts have detailed data and biological samples from pregnancy until children reach 5 years of age. 8 year data is ongoing. Together, ABCD is a large, prospective, population-based cohort with information on demographics, lifestyle, mental health, family functioning, parenting, daycare, child development (social, emotional, physical, cognitive) and biological markers that is critical to determine the early origins of child health and disease. The ABCD dataset builds on existing data and infrastructure to allow time sensitive data collection to advance understanding of the risk factors for suboptimal child development, including emotional and behavior problems, learning problems, injury, obesity and chronic disease.

AProN: Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition

The primary aims of the Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition (APrON) study are to determine the relationships between maternal nutrient intake and status ,before, during and after gestation, and (1) maternal mood, (2) birth and obstetric outcomes, and (3) infant neurodevelopment. APrON is an ongoing prospective cohort study that recruited pregnant women early in pregnancy. It has approximately 5000 participants (2200 pregnant women, their offspring and many of their partners). We have collected comprehensive maternal nutrition, anthropometric, biological and mental health data at multiple points in the pregnancy and the post-partum period, as well as obstetrical, birth, health and neurodevelopmental outcomes of these pregnancies. The study’s vision is to continue to follow the children of APrON until they might have their own babies in the future! Overall, the goal of the study is to improve the health and long-term potential of mothers and newborn babies in Alberta by identifying the role of nutrition in mental and neurodevelopmental disorders, and long-term neurocognitive function (read more).

Attachment and Child Heath (ATTACH):
Developing & Testing a Reflective Function Intervention

Parents suffering toxic stress (depression, addiction, violence) are unable to respond sensitively to their infants which interferes with forming secure parent-infant attachments necessary for healthy child development. Secure attachment is influenced by parental Reflective Function (RF); parents’ capacity to understand and thus regulate their own feelings/behaviour toward their child. Few RF interventions exist and focus only on mothers’ understanding of their own psychological caregiving representations but do not promote learning RF skills via practice, and ignore co-parents. Building on this research ATTACH has developed and pilot tested a RF intervention designed for mothers and co-parents; intended as an add-on program to existing parenting programs (Nurturing Parenting, Thera-play). We are currently working to report our progress from the ATTACH pilot studies (read more).

ATTACH Online Program Website:

Effects of a Parenting Intervention on Immune Cell Gene Expression in Children Exposed to Toxic Stress

This proposed sub-project builds on Dr. Letourneau’s existing ATTACH program by adding an important marker of physical health: immune cell function. High quality maternal-child attachment can buffer the effect of toxic stress on child neuroendocrine pathways [e.g. hypothalamic-adrenal pituitary (HPA) and sympathetic-adrenal-medulla (SAM) axes], with beneficial downstream effects on child immune system activity, i.e. reduced risk for allergies and reduced low-grade inflammation, a risk factor for poor future health. This sub-project will extend previous research by taking advantage of an ongoing, effective parenting intervention to test whether improved mother-child relationship qualities and attachment in the context of toxic stress has additional benefits for preschoolers’ immune function immediately following the intervention (read more).

Indigenous Mothers & Children Healing from Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence (IPV) and the exposure of children to IPV are serious societal concerns. Notably, Indigenous women in Canada are four times more likely to experience IPV than non-Indigenous women. These inequities among Indigenous women and children need to be understood within a broad context of Canadian colonization and the intergenerational effects of the collective traumas experienced by previous generations of families and communities (read more).

Parenting Research on Mental Illness, Stress & Epi/Genetics (PROMISE)

PROMISE’s primary objective is to understand whether mothers’ and fathers’ parenting moderates the influence of childhood adversities and genetic susceptibility to environmental influences on 3‐5 year old children’s neurodevelopment (in behavioural and cognitive domains). Genetic susceptibility is typically associated with variants in genes for the dopamine receptor, monoamine oxidase A, and serotonin transporter that interact with environmental exposures for better or worse children’s outcomes, depending on the quality of the exposure. The second objective will examine whether mothers’ and fathers’ parenting moderates the influence of childhood adversities and genetic susceptibility on 3‐5 year old children’s epigenomic profile. PROMISE intends to follow a subsample of 600 families from the APrON cohort and used mixed effects models to test the primary hypothesis that parenting moderates the influence of adversities and genetic susceptibility on children’s neurodevelopment (read more).

Psychosocial distress during pregnancy and pathways to preterm birth: Building evidence in LMIC to guide targeted psychosocial interventions

This study measures biological responses to emotional distress in Pakistani women in some of the most extreme socio-economic and cultural conditions. We follow these women to birth to determine if their babies are born early, before 37 weeks, and examine targeted psychosocial intervention to be responsive to the mental health needs of Pakistani women. Not only will our results benefit women in LMIC, but findings can help clinicians and the health care system in Canada more effectively manage mental health of Pakistani immigrant women. Understanding of psychosocial pathways to preterm birth will inform future research around how psychosocial interventions reduce risk.

Research and Education for Solutions to Violence and Abuse (RESOLVE ALBERTA)

Research and Education for Solutions to Violence and Abuse (RESOLVE) is a tri-prairie research network that co-ordinates and supports research aimed at ending violence, especially violence involving girls and women.

Technoference Information for Parents Project

Video-Feedback Interaction Guidance for Improving Interactions Between Depressed Mothers and their Infants

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a major public health issue. Known as “the thief that steals motherhood” since symptoms obstruct a mother’s capacity for understanding and enjoying her baby, PPD affects approximately 1 in 5 moms. Built via “serve and return” interactions (e.g. baby smiles, mom smiles back), sensitive and responsive exchanges are the foundation for healthy child development but are diminished by PPD, resulting in interactions that place children at risk for behavioural and cognitive problems. Infants perceive PPD as stressful; stressors stimulate the brain’s hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA) and trigger stress hormone (cortisol) release, which, in turn, negatively affects developing infant brains by decreasing brain volume. Infants’ critical periods of brain development are vulnerable to long-term effects of cortisol, explaining some of the problematic developmental outcomes observed in children of depressed mothers (read more).