The overarching vision of the research led by Drs. O'Connor and Unger is to improve the survival and long-term prognosis of very low birth weight (VLBW) infants through nutrition. Central to this program of research is that mother’s own milk is the optimal way to feed every infant. With a common goal, their research programs are closely intertwined and strategically built upon each other.
In Canada, the leading cause of death among infants and long-term disability among children is being born preterm and its complications. It is critical to provide the best care for very low birth weight infants; a key modifiable aspect of this care is nutrition. Drs. O'Connor and Unger's research programs address the urgent need for policy makers, clinicians and researchers to work together to identify and rigorously evaluate promising nutrition strategies that, if proven effective and safe, can be seamlessly incorporated into clinical practice.
The programs are ensconced within a cadre of world-class institutions located in Toronto’s Discovery District. This includes the University of Toronto, The Hospital for Sick Children, Mount Sinai Hospital, and the Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank. Through the established feeding network, their research spans neonatal intensive care units across the greater Toronto and Hamilton area, IWK Health Centre in Halifax and BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. Involved facilities at the Université Laval, University of Ottawa and Wilfrid Laurier allow for collaboration in laboratories across the country.
The core research team and laboratories are at the SickKids Research Institute located in the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning. The 21-storey tower of 750 000 square feet holds state-of-the-art facilities and is home to world renowned paediatric researchers and clinicians.
Current research programs include: