Meet the team behind MaxiMoM

Combining their research, clinical, milk banking, and discipline-specific strengths, principal investigators, Drs. O’Connor and Unger, have become international leaders in optimizing human milk for very low birth weight infants. This research could not be done without the dedication and enthusiasm of our large team of staff, trainees, collaborators, and family advisors!

Principal investigators

Dr. Deborah O'Connor- MaxiMoM Principal Investigator

Deborah O'Connor PhD RD

Dr. O’Connor is the Chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto and a Senior Associate Scientist at the SickKids Research Institute. Dr. O’Connor is a recognized authority in neonatal nutrition and is frequently asked for her expert opinion in preparing national and international maternal and neonatal nutrition guidelines. Dr. O'Connor is also interested in understanding the factors that affect the folate and one-carbon (e.g. vitamin B12) nutrient status of women, infants, and young children. In particular, her work investigates the role folic acid fortification, vitamin and mineral supplementation and colonic bacterial folate biosynthesis play on the folate status of women of reproductive age. Folate and other one-carbon nutrients are critically involved in the prevention of birth defects and emerging evidence suggests these nutrients also play important roles in epigenetic programming of adult disease.

Sharon Unger MD

Dr. Unger is a neonatologist at Sinai Health, a scientist at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, a professor in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto (U of T) and a mother to three teenage daughters. She comes from New Brunswick and attended Dalhousie University Medical School. Following pediatrics residency on the East Coast, Dr. Unger completed fellowship training in neonatal-perinatal medicine at U of T. Along with Dr. O'Connor she was a primary investigator for the Donor Milk for Improved Neurodevelopmental Outcomes (DoMINO) trial which is the largest blinded randomized controlled trial in donor milk use as a supplement to mother's milk. This trial provided the evidence required to launch the Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank for which Dr. Unger is the medical director. Drs. Unger and O'Connor have had continuous funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for more than the past decade and together serve as the primary investigators for the MaxiMoM: Maximizing Mothers' Milk Program of Research.

Dr. Sharon Unger- MaxiMoM Principal Investigator



Carleigh Jenkins BASc

Research coordinator

Nicole Law PhD CPsych



Sorcha Ní Chobhthaigh MSc

Research assistant & Psychometrist


Dubraiicka Pichardo MSc

Research coordinator

Agnes Lei

Research assistant


Alexia Lambis BA

Research assistant & Psychometrist




Collaboration is at the heart of our work. The consortium of neonatal intensive care units and organizations are an integral part of the MaxiMoM program. Through these collaborators, we reach many of the infants born very low birth weight in Canada each year. This level of integration and collaboration makes the MaxiMoM program a unique network not found anywhere else in the world. Established research contracts, electronic data collection, a biobank, and support from the Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank place MaxiMoM in an ideal position to rapidly and effectively answer research questions and implement practice change.

Humber River Hospital

Lakeridge Health 

Mackenzie Health 

Markham Stouffville Hospital 

Toronto East Health Network

North York General Hospital

Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank 

Scarborough Health Network

Southlake Regional Health Centre 

Sinai Health System 

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

The Hospital for Sick Children

Unity Health Toronto

Universite Laval

University of Alberta

University of Ottawa

University of Toronto

Trillium Health Partners 

William Osler Health System


The MaxiMoM Family is a group of parents who have participated in our studies and who provide feedback for our study initiatives.  We are thankful for the support and contributions of the MaxiMoM Family to ensure that our research is accessible, relevant and meaningful to the families we aim to support. Click the link below if you are interested in learning more about joining our advisory group!  

Young Family
Happy Family

MaxiMoM Family



Kathryn Hopperton PhD

Research fellow

Fatty acid concentrations of human milk and preterm infant neurodevelopment

Kathryn Walton- Research Fellow

Kathryn Walton PhD RD

Research fellow

Eating behaviours, caregiver feeding interactions and the dietary patterns of children born preterm

Michelle Asbury- PhD Student

Michelle Asbury MSc

PhD student​

Impact of the mother’s milk microbiota on the gastrointestinal colonization of hospitalized infants born <1250 grams

Nicole Bando MSc

PhD student

Examining the relationship between early-life nutrition and neural processing speed capacities in infants born very preterm

Jane Francis- PhD Student

Jane Francis MSc RD

PhD student

Parkdale Infant Nutrition Security Targeted Evaluation Project (PINSTEP): Formative research

Michael Pitino MSc

PhD student

Optimizing the pasteurization of human donor milk using high hydrostatic pressure processing

Sara Shama- PhD Student

Sara Shama MSc RD

PhD student​

Impact of pre- and probiotic properties of mother’s milk on the microbial colonization of very low birth weight infants

Colleen Farrell BASc RD

MSc student​

Factors affecting folate absorption and regulation of folate transporters in the colon of humans

Adrianna Greco- MSc Student

Adrianna Greco BSc RD

MSc student​

Assessing the concentrations of iodine, choline, and vitamin B12 in human milk of Canadian mothers with healthy, term-born infants

Samantha Ismail BSc

MSc student​

Breast milk SARS-CoV-2 IgA and IgG antibodies: ELISA validation and antibody neutralizing capacity

Jong Yup Sa BSc

MSc student​

How are antibiotic classes and timing of exposure associated with the gastrointestinal microbiota of human milk-fed infants born <1250 g?

Akash Kothari

BSc student

The impact of thermal and non-thermal pasteurization methods on the antiviral activity of human donor milk

Former trainees

  • Amelia Xu PhD 

  • Amir El Makkawi MD

  • Abu Ismail MD

  • Dawn Ng MSc

  • Joan Brennan-Donnan MSc RD

  • Julia Panczuk MD

  • Lauren LeMay-Nedjelski PhD

  • Marina Castro MD

  • Meghan McGee PhD

  • Phoebe Kigozi MD

  • Sara DiLauro MSc RD

  • Susan Trang MSc

  • Telford Yeung MD PhD

  • Yunnie Luk MSc RD

SickKids Research Institute

Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning

686 Bay Street

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

M5G 0A4

Department of Nutritional Sciences

University of Toronto

1 King's College Circle

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

M5S 1A8

© 2021 MaxiMoM Research

download copy 6.png