Meet Dr. Lisa Pell, Clinical Research Manager at the Centre for Global Child Health at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. Baby Hero has been collaborating with Lisa and her team from Sick Kids Hospital researching interventions that break the cycle of poor maternal outcomes in the developing world. Lisa tells us about how her childhood dream, her fascinating doctoral research, and her experiences in rural Pakistan and Kenya where Baby Hero is funding Neonatal Survival Kits.
I admire Baby Hero’s commitment to making the world a better place through their ‘Giving Model’. Baby Hero has identified an important global health problem (high newborn mortality rate) and provided a mechanism for their customers and networks to contribute toward the common goal of improve the lives of babies everywhere.
I grew up in a suburb outside of Toronto with my parents and two younger siblings. Most of my childhood memories are of large and loud (in a good way) family gatherings with both my mom and dad’s side of the family gathered under one roof. I wish I could say that as a child I dreamed of being a rock star or an astronaut, but truthfully, all I’ve ever wanted to be was a scientist. Doing a PhD in biochemistry brought me closer to that goal. I chose to study biochemistry so I could use chemistry to solve important biological problems (like the emergence of drug resistance).
During my PhD and postdoctoral research training, I studied a large group of viruses called bacteriophages (or phages for short), which infect and kill bacteria (not people)! As the emergence of drug resistant pathogens continues to threaten existing treatment options, there is an urgent need to study alternative treatment options.
Since phages naturally infect and kill bacteria, they are obvious candidates for novel therapeutics. I studied these viruses in atomic detail by breaking them into their composite protein parts and used biochemical techniques to uncover their molecular structures. By understanding the structure of viral proteins, I was able to determine how these viruses assembled and evolved.
"I recognize that my life would be very different if I was born elsewhere."
I made the switch to public health, and more specifically global child health, so I could work towards improving the survival rates among some of the world's most vulnerable children. I’ve been fortunate to have experienced many opportunities and have enjoyed my good health. I recognize that my life would be very different if I was born elsewhere.
As many global health issues are often addressed through multidisciplinary collaboration, I felt that my research training in both biochemistry and global health would enable me to make a positive impact on these important issues.
What excites me most about the newborn survival kit is that in addition to improving survival during the first month of life, we also have the potential to improve long-term developmental outcomes. In this way, the kit has the potential to contribute to a future where children both survive and thrive.
The high infant and maternal mortality rates in South Asia and sub-Sarahan Africa are a result of a variety of factors including limited access to newborn and maternal health services, undernutrition, high infection rates, and availability to clean and safe water, to name a few.
"Having the opportunity to teach these sessions has been an amazing experience. It’s incredibly rewarding to know that even after the study is done, the knowledge that has been gained by our study team is there to stay."
To make a dramatic impact on infant and maternal mortality, the integration of maternal and newborn health interventions will be crucial. Also, as the success of many of these interventions is in part dependent upon the health system in which they are implemented, efforts to strengthen health system infrastructure and performance is key.
“The areas we’re working in are extremely rural, the terrain are rugged, and the distance between health facilities and villages are vast”
We’ve known from the onset that the implementation of these trials would be challenging. In spite of that, I think what has surprised me the most from my visits, especially to Kenya, is to see first hand, just how challenging it is. It’s one thing to look at a map and say “The areas we’re working in are extremely rural, the terrain are rugged, and the distance between health facilities and villages are vast”, it’s totally different to visit those sites, and traverse those rugged and vast distances on foot! This really speaks volumes of the excellent teams we have working on the ground in Kenya and Pakistan who deal with these challenges on a daily basis to ensure that kits are delivered and data collected.
I’ve visited Kenya on multiple occasions to conduct training sessions for our team of data collectors and team leaders; there are 40 data collectors and 12 team leaders engaged in the study in Kenya, each of whom reside in the rural communities in which they work. Having the opportunity to teach these sessions has been an amazing experience. It’s incredibly rewarding to know that even after the study is done, the knowledge that has been gained by our study team is there to stay.
"What excites me most about the Neonatal Survival Kit is that in addition to improving survival during the first month of life, we also have the potential to improve long-term developmental outcomes."
Pending results of the trial, we intend to scale-up the implementation of the newborn survival kit within both Pakistan and Kenya. It’s very important that we be as rigorous as possible in our data collection and analyses before announcing the results of the studies. We expect to share the findings from the trials in Kenya and Pakistan as early as May 2016 and May 2017, respectively.
Every Baby Hero product helps fund components of the Neonatal Survival Kit that Lisa and her team are distributing in Kenya and Pakistan.
What's in the Kit? Read all about this life-saving Kit here!
Interested in funding a Kit? Simply fund a Kit here.