Oct. 27, 2023

2023 Killam Postdoctoral Scholars focus on health of pre-term babies and childhood cancer survivors

Scholars awarded prestigious fellowships to pursue novel research programs
Michelle Asbury and Perri Tutelman have been named UCalgary’s 2023 Killam Postdoctoral Scholars.
Michelle Asbury, left, and Perri Tutelman have been named UCalgary’s 2023 Killam Postdoctoral Scholars.

Two UCalgary postdoctoral scholars have been awarded prestigious Killam Fellowships this year, to support their research programs focused on child health.

Dr. Michelle Asbury, PhD, and Dr. Perri Tutelman, PhD, accepted their awards at the Killam luncheon on Oct, 19, 2023.

“We are excited to recognize Dr. Asbury and Dr. Tutelman with the Killam Postdoctoral Fellowships for 2023,” says Dr. Katrina Milaney, postdoctoral program director. “They are both immensely accomplished, and their pursuit of transformative health research has great potential for impact on the lives of young people. Congratulations, Michelle and Perri!”

Killam Awards

Dr. Michelle Asbury, 2023 Killam Postdoctoral Scholar, pictured with Dr. Kevin Lynch, Killam Trustee.

Sean Phillips, for the University of Calgary

Dr. Michelle Asbury, PhD

Deepening our understanding of the connection between human milk and improved health outcomes for preterm babies

Preterm birth is one of the leading causes of paediatric death and morbidity, both in Canada and globally. However, nutrition strategies that involve feeding human milk — either their mother’s or pasteurized donor milk ­— to preterm babies can support their development and improve long-term health outcomes.

Michelle Asbury, a postdoctoral scholar in Dr. Marie-Claire Arrieta’s lab in the Cumming School of Medicine, is studying how the unique composition of human milk can shape the microbiome and immune system of preterm babies.

Asbury will conduct the first in-depth characterization study of the proteins, lipids, oligosaccharides, metabolites, and immune factors in human milk for preterm babies. Studies to date have focused on single components of human milk, such as total macronutrients, but not how these various components function as a complex biological system.

Using human milk, stool, and blood samples from approximately 400 mothers and their preterm babies enrolled in the Alberta BLOOM Study, Asbury will correlate the nutritional and immune components in human milk with the babies’ microbiome during hospitalization and immune system at one year of age.

Asbury hypothesizes that the varied composition of human milk plays an important role in shaping the development of preterm babies, with certain components “working together” to drive health benefits.  

This study is the first of its kind, and Asbury anticipates that its results will be used to design nutritional strategies and therapeutics to support preterm infant health and development globally.

Killam Awards

Dr. Perri Tutelman, 2023 Killam Postdoctoral Scholar, pictured with Dr. Kevin Lynch, Killam Trustee.

Sean Phillips, for the University of Calgary

Dr. Perri Tutelman, PhD

Creating eHealth interventions for survivors of childhood cancer

Survival rates for childhood cancers have doubled over the last 50 years, and there are now over 500,000 survivors of childhood cancer in North America alone. Unfortunately, cancer and its treatments can lead to serious health problems that persist long after treatment is complete.

The most common issues experienced by childhood cancer survivors are anxiety, depression, pain and fatigue, often occurring together and making each other worse, leading to long-term distress and disability. Current treatment options are often fragmented ­— one specialist for pain, a different specialist for anxiety, and so on. As a result, co-occurring mental and physical health problems are not addressed and can worsen.

Perri Tutelman, postdoctoral scholar in the labs of Dr. Fiona Schulte, PhD (Cumming School of Medicine) and Dr. Melanie Noel, PhD (Faculty of Arts), is developing a new method of treating these challenges: the first virtual transdiagnostic eHealth intervention for adolescent and young adult survivors of childhood cancer.

Tutelman, a clinical psychologist, believes the key lies in providing cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) virtually, via a custom-designed online application. CBT is considered the gold standard for treatment of anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue in cancer survivors, and can be delivered virtually to improve access to care.

Tutelman will co-create the CBT-based eHealth intervention with adolescent and young adult cancer survivors, health-care providers and researchers to ensure it is easy to use, functional, and an effective method of treatment.

When complete, Tutelman’s eHealth intervention will be an equitable, revolutionary addition to care for cancer survivors, and address the challenging health issues that if left untreated can have long-term negative effects on young lives.

Sign up for UToday

Sign up for UToday

Delivered to your inbox — a daily roundup of news and events from across the University of Calgary's 14 faculties and dozens of units

Thank you for your submission.