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Our team


MaxiMoM team introduction

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

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 holds scientific appointments in the Research Institute at The Hospital for Sick Children and in the Department of Pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital. She is also a Canada Research Chair in Human Milk and Infant Nutrition. Dr. O’Connor is a recognized authority in maternal and neonatal nutrition with a current research focus on evaluation of strategies to support human milk feeding in vulnerable populations including the use of donor human milk when maternal milk is unavailable. 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 and their infants. 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. Dr. O’Connor frequently serves on national and international expert committees to develop maternal and neonatal nutrition guidelines.

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


Susanne Aufreiter- Research Associate

Annette Chrzaniecki, MPH RD

Clinical Research Dietitian

Photo of MaxiMoM team member

Adrienne Agueci, BSc

Dietary Technician


Lauren Tang

Dietary Technician

Dubraiicka Pichardo MSc

Research coordinator


Alexia Lambis MEd

Research assistant & Psychometrist



Nicholas Carroll, MSc RD

​Clinical Research Dietitian  


Rachael Crumb

Research Diet Technician


Zoe Aliefendioglu

Lab Research Project Coordinator



Clinical Research Dietitian


Fatima Merza

Lab Research Project Coordinator



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


Postdoctoral Fellows

Image of Megan Beggs

Megan Beggs PhD RD 

Research fellow

Optimizing trace element nutrition for infants born preterm

Image of Jo-Anne Baxter

Jo-Anna Baxter PhD

Exploring associations between maternal micronutrient supplementation, diet and body mass index with breastmilk composition and infant growth

Research fellow

Alison Mildon headshot 2022.jpg

Alison Mildon, PhD RD

Research fellow

Investigating infant feeding, household food security and community-based nutrition interventions in diverse populations


Alison Mildon, PhD RD

Maryam Razaghi, PhD

Research fellow

The CanDo (Canadian Donor Milk) Trial: Pasteurized human donor milk supplementation in the well-baby unit.



Shachar Shalit, RD, MPH

PhD Student

Nutritional intake of very low birth weight human milk fed infants who achieved optimal developmental outcome


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

Amanda Montana Headshot.JPG

Amanda Montana, BSc

MSc Student

Assessing the diet quality of lactating mothers of very preterm infants during the first post month postpartum.

Former Trainees

Former Undergraduate Students​

  • Akash Kothari MSc, BSc 

       Current Position: Medical Student, University of Toronto


  • Rachel Wong MSc, BSc

       Current Position: Research Associate, University of Toronto

Former Masters Students​

  • Samantha Ismail MSc, BSc

      Current Position: Medical Student, University of Toronto 

  • Colleen Farrell MSc RD

        Current Position: Renal Dietitian, Island Health, Vancouver Island​

  • Dawn Ng MSc

Current Position: Dentist, Newstead Smiles, Queensland, Australia

  • Eleanor Reid MSc

       Current Position: Project Manager, Funding Analytics & Operations Support, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

  • Joan Brennan-Donnan MSc RD

       Current Position: Registered Dietitian, Sinai Health System 

  • Sara DiLauro MSc RD

       Current Position: Registered Dietitian, The Hospital for Sick Children 

  • Siya Khanna MSc

       Current Position: Medical Resident

  • Susan Trang MSc

        Current Position: Nutrition Research Analyst, Nutrition Regulations Standards Division, Health Canada

  • Yunnie Luk MSc RD

       Current Position:  Registered Dietitian, The Hospital for Sick Children


  • Adrianna Greco MSc RD 

Current position: PhD student, The University of British Columbia

  • Victoria Colaluca MSc BSc

Current position: Graduate Student, Adler

Former Doctoral Students​

  • Jane Francis PhD RD

       Current Position: Research Fellow, Acadia University

  • Julie Sato, PhD

       Current Position: Post-doctoral fellow University of Toronto (Dr. Margot Taylor Lab)

  • Lauren LeMay-Nedjelski PhD

       Current Position: Medical Writer, EVERSANA

  • Meghan McGee PhD

       Current Position: Project Coordinator, Bridgepoint Research Collaboratory

  • Nicole Bando PhD MSc 

Current Position:  Research Associate, Maternal Infant Research Centre, Sinai Health

  • Michelle Asbury PhD MSc

Current Position: Postdoctoral Associate, University of Calgary

  • Michael Pitino PhD MSc

Current Position: Postdoctoral Scholar, Oregon State University

Former Clinical & Research Fellow​s

  • Abu Ismail MD

  • Current Posititon: Paediatrician and neonatologist at Halton Health Care

  • Amelia Xu PhD

       Current Position: Postdoctoral Fellow, Sinai Health System

  • Amir El Makkawi MD

Current Position: Assistant Professor, Queen’s University and Paediatrician and neonatologist Lakeridge Health

  • Julia Panczuk MD

Current Position: Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia and Neonatologist, BC Women’s Hospital

  • Kathryn Hopperton PhD

       Current Position: Scientific Evaluator, Health Canada

  • Marina Castro MD

       Current Position: Staff Paediatrician and Neonatologist at Credit Valley Hospital and Mississauga Hospital​

  • Phoebe Kigozi MD 

       Current Position: Neonatologist, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

  • Telford Yeung MD PhD

        Current Position: Staff Neonatologist, Windsor Regional Hospital

  • Kathryn Walton PhD RD

         Current Position: Assistant Professor, University of Guelph

Team Pictures

Michael Pitino.jpeg

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

Image of Victoria Colaluca

Victoria Colaluca BSc

MSc student​

The effect of probiotics on human colonic folate concentration

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

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Nutritional Sciences, University of Toronto logo
Mount Sinai Hospital logo
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