April 8, 2022

UCalgary research will investigate effects of prenatal cannabis exposure on maternal and infant health

Researcher is 1 of 11 at UCalgary to receive federal New Frontiers in Research Fund grants
UCalgary research will investigate effects of prenatal cannabis exposure on maternal and infant health
Woman makes cannabis joint Unsplash

Dr. Kathleen Chaput, PhD, is leading a team Researchers at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine that will examine Canada’s social context of prenatal cannabis consumption in relation to both maternal and infant health outcomes. Their two-year study is moving forward with the support of a $250,000 grant from the NFRF that was announced April 4, 2022. 

Chaput will conduct an Alberta-wide cohort study of 1,900 people in pregnancy. “We’re really excited that this grant is going to provide the foundation to launch this, and we have all these great programs of research that will hopefully capitalize on that and carry it forward,” says Chaput, an assistant professor at the Cumming School of Medicine.

Kathleen Chaput

Dr. Kathleen Chaput, PhD

The legalization of cannabis in Canada has raised concerns among health professionals. Chaput’s team recognizes the immediate need for improved evidence about the effects of prenatal cannabis exposure on maternal and infant health to inform evidence-based, targeted education and intervention in Canada. 

Chaput acknowledges this two-year study will only be the beginning of work in this field. “There is a ton of background work that our team has done to really develop how we’re measuring things”, says Chaput. “We’re doing the best possible job of capturing prenatal cannabis use, which has been a bit of a weakness in past studies.”

Chaput’s research team consists of sociologists, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, neonatologists, cardiac scientists, and also boasts two patient advisers. These advisers are women who have previously used cannabis in pregnancy and will help guide the study through patient perspectives and assist in interpreting findings. 

The research team will explore socioeconomic factors and social discrimination related to cannabis use in their investigation, planning to treat these variables as exposures of interest rather than controlling for their effects as previous studies have done. The study will also explore medicinal benefits of cannabis for pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting, anxiety, and sleep, hoping to enhance the understanding of these complex and controversial issues rather than focusing solely on risks.

The study is considered high risk because it brings new disciplines with different perspectives together to address an important research question and because it drives prenatal cannabis research in new directions.

Chaput recognizes her team is treading on new ground, but she is hopeful they will build a foundation for future research of a similar nature. “We have a two-year window to work here, but I think this is potentially building the foundations for a long-term cohort that we could potentially get more funding and follow right through childhood,” says Chaput.

$45 million to support high-risk projects across Canada

François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and industry, announced over $45 million in support for research projects through the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF). 

The NFRF Exploration grant awarded to Chaput is intended to support high-risk, high-reward and interdisciplinary research. “Securing the funding for something like this is difficult and I think the benefit of a program like this New Frontiers competition is that it creates an avenue for exploration for things that might be too high-risk for some of the more traditional funding routes,” says Chaput.

Chaput is one of eight UCalgary researchers to receive NFRF 2021 Exploration grants. Those eight grants given to UCalgary researchers are the highest received by any institution in Canada. Three UCalgary projects received funding via the NFRF Special Call on Innovative Approaches to Research in the Pandemic Context competition. 

Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research) at the University of Calgary, recognizes the importance of supporting research teams who are exploring new perspectives in their work. “Our researchers are innovative in their thinking and that can sometimes be a risky place to find yourself,” says Ghali.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to see these teams at UCalgary receive support from the federal government to take risks in their work so that they may create massive reward for our community.”

UCalgary recipients of New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) 2021 Exploration Grant: 

  • Dr. Kathleen Chaput, PhD (Cumming School of Medicine): Examining the Current Canadian Social Context of Prenatal Cannabis Consumption and Intersections with Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes
  • Dr. Tanvir Turin Chowdhury, PhD (Cumming School of Medicine): Immigrant/Racialized Community Mobilization Towards Empowerment through Community-Based Health Data Cooperative
  • Dr. Trafford (Robert) Crump, PhD (Cumming School of Medicine, Schulich School of Engineering): Using Novel Deep Functional Learning to Detect and Develop Personalized Risk Scores for Uveal Melanoma
  • Dr. Ke Du, PhD (Schulich School of Engineering): Application of Image Recognition and Machine Learning to Identify, Localize, and Quantify Leak of Natural Gas
  • Dr. Roman Krawetz, PhD (Cumming School of Medicine): A Transdisciplinary Approach to Develop Stem Cell Therapies for Equine Cartilage Injuries
  • Dr. Joanna Rankin, PhD (Cumming School of Medicine): Radical Mental Health Doulas: An Innovative Model of Support for Women with Mental Health Challenges
  • Dr. Farnaz Sadeghpour, PhD (Schulich School of Engineering): Reducing Construction Incidents through Next Generation of Real-Time Locating Systems
  • Dr. Emma Towlson, PhD (Faculty of Science): Precision Brain Network Modeling Towards a Unifying Model of Mental Illness Risk

UCalgary recipients of New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) Special Call on Innovative Approaches to Research in the Pandemic Context:

  • Dr. Svetlana Yanushkevich, PhD (Schulich School of Engineering): Emergency Management Cycle-Centric R&D: From National Prototyping to Global Implementation
  • Dr. Ryan Peters, PhD (Faculty of Kinesiology): The Vibratus Smartphone App for Remote Neurological Monitoring
  • Dr. Aravind Ganesh, MD (Cumming School of Medicine): Using Artificial Intelligence Based Solutions to Facilitate Clinical Trial Enrolment

This prestigious group represents the breadth and depth of the research and expertise at the University of Calgary, representing a number of the institutes within the Cumming School of Medicine, including the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI), the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health.