A shared lab space produces unexpected results

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“Honestly there were a number of factors that contributed to the idea of a shared Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) lab,” Dr. Janet Curran explains. “As luck would have it, Dr. Marsha Campbell-Yeo and I were looking for research space at the same time. We’re both scientists who do patient-oriented research, using similar technology to support data collection and analysis.”

Curran heads the Strengthening Transitions in Pediatric Care team, a collaborative, patient-centred approach to understanding how children and families currently navigate transitions in care. Their research aims to improve outcomes and lead sustainable change in the health care system.

Campbell-Yeo and her research team spearhead Mechanisms, Outcomes, and Mobilization of maternally-Led Interventions for Newborn Care (MOM-LINC). MOM-LINC is an interdisciplinary research environment for the investigation of non-invasive parent-led interventions primarily focusing on reducing pain and improving neurodevelopment of sick or prematurely born babies as well as the development of innovative ways to more fully engage mothers and families in care.

“We knew there would be obvious benefits in terms of being able to afford and use the infrastructure, including state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment, which allows both of our research teams to record our focus groups and have a standardized data system,” Campbell-Yeo says. “But I think even more important than that are the social and scientific relationships we see being built between the two research teams.”

Curran has been pleased to see collaboration, not only between their own team members, but also the “cross-pollination” of teams, discussing research methods, generating new project ideas and brainstorming solutions to challenges.

“Trainees often operate in isolation in their graduate work, going from class, to library, to their home. The shared work space in the IWK Health Centre allows them to not only learn from and build relationships with other trainees, but also with managers and staff, physicians, nurses,” Curran says. “The informal learning that takes place over the ‘water cooler chats’ in our lab really helps to set our trainees apart from their peers.”

Productivity has increased exponentially with the shared space. With faculty, trainees, and research staff all in one area instead of being spread throughout university spaces, other parts of the hospital, other labs or at their home, they are more connected and have more regular meetings. Campbell-Yeo says she interacts with her team more often, access to IT and other operational support is increased, projects move much more quickly and everything is more efficient.

“Academia and research are traditionally placed far away from people they are trying to help,” Campbell-Yeo says. “But having the research physically closer to the main objective, improving the lives of patients and families, provides more opportunities to be reflexive and responsive to the actual needs of patients and families.”

Both women say they are proudest that their lab has allowed them to foster, attract and retain top talent. The lab is helping kick-start a new generation of home-grown researchers who are achieving national and international accolades. One of Curran’s trainees recently received a prestigious national fellowship. Two of Campbell-Yeo’s students are highly coveted Vanier Scholars, one of whom is currently completing a Canadian Institute of Health Research Michael Smith Fellowship at Harvard University and Boston Children’s and another student recently named as the CIHR doctoral award recipient in honour of Nelson Mandela for her contributions to increasing mother’s role in reducing neonatal mortality in Tanzania.

“The IWK has benefited from this collaborative kind of partnership and the talent it has shaped, and it will continue to do so,” Curran says. “The work of these trainees is moving evidence into practice and weaving the culture of research into the fabric of the IWK.”

Creating a culture of research and integrating with patient care is a guiding principle of IWK Research Services. Curran and Campbell-Yeo credit the department for their guidance and support in applying for the CFI funding.

“It takes a supportive environment to create a successful lab,” Curran says. “We would not be here without the assistance of Research Services.”