CHILD Symposium spotlights cohorts & precision health

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Some of the participants of Day 1 of the Symposium pose for a group photo at the end-of-day reception.

Over three days at the end of January 2024, CHILD and SickKids researchers, technicians and staff gathered in Toronto with other Canadian and international experts to discuss recent advancements out of CHILD, approaches to running cohorts, and the role cohorts can play in advancing child precision health.

The presenters represented a wealth of expertise across a range of disciplines, including bioinformatics, genomics, machine learning, environmental epidemiology, science communication, and clinical translational research. Topics under discussion included exposome and microbiome-related discoveries out of CHILD about the early-life origins of asthma and other non-communicable diseases; and the challenges of developing general population and hospital-based cohorts, delving into issues such as health economics, data harmonization, and obtaining consent for data sharing.


The first day of the event, attended by over 70 people, was focused largely on recent developments in CHILD, with presentations from CHILD leaders and researchers including Stuart Turvey (UBC), Myrtha Reyna (University of Toronto), Lauren Erdman (Cincinnati Children’s Hospital), Qingling Duan (Queen’s University), Karlie Edwards (UBC), Geoff Winsor (SFU), Harry Lee (UBC), Marco Zenone (University of Alberta), Kozeta Miliku (University of Toronto), Jeff Brook (University of Toronto), Sarah Turner (University of Manitoba), and Zihang Lu (Queen’s University).

Following a welcome from SickKid’s CEO Ronald Cohn, the second day broadened the discussion to feature other international cohorts, including the UK-based Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), Australia’s Generation Victoria, and Denmark’s Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood (COPSAC). 


Scenes from the Symposium

Speakers on day two included Nicholas Timpson (ALSPAC), Melissa Wake (Generation Victoria), Klaus Bonnelykke and Jakob Stokholm (COPSAC), and CHILD Director Padmaja Subbaro, describing the experiences of their respective cohorts. There was also a panel on “integrative analysis and innovation,” discussing data harmonization and data linkage initiatives, featuring Isabel Fortier (McGill University), Fiona Brinkman (SFU), and Dany Doiron (McGill University). A second panel looked at inter-institutional oportunities and challenges facing hospital-based cohorts, with contributions from Mélanie Courtot (OICR), Catherine Boileau (CHU Sainte-Justine), Tanya Papaz (SickKids), and Carla Southward (SickKids). Finally, in two keynote presentations, Ma’n Zawati (McGill University) discussed obtaining consent for data sharing, and Vincent Ferretti (CHU Sainte-Justine) spoke on “genomic data commons as engines for precision medicine.” Over 170 people attended on day two.

The third day consisted of an invitation-only workshop with 17 participants, focused on data and infrastructure needs of the SickKids-CHU Sainte-Justine Precision Child Health Partnership (PCHP).

Workshops were also held on day two and three with CHILD site coordinators – and with the remote participation of site research staff for some sessions – to discuss: current and future Study priorities; ways to make the most of participants’ site visits; best practices for biological sample collection and processing; and strategies for youth and family participant engagement. Presenters and facilitators included CHILD Managing Director Michelle Helm, CHILD Program Manager Elissa Brookes, and Carla Southward, Project Coordinator for Child Health Evaluative Sciences at SickKids. In-person participants included site coordinators Erika Sifuentes (Vancouver)Joyce Chikuma (Edmonton), and Eshwari Nanjappan (Toronto) as well as Subbarao Lab Research Program Manager Yaminee Charavanapavan (SickKids).

“It was inspiring to share lessons learned with the leaders of these other remarkable health cohorts, and to hear from others with such deep insight into matters ranging from integrated data analysis to the ethics of data sharing and consent. Both as a researcher and as a cohort manager, I have come away from these three days invigorated and equipped with new ideas,” comments CHILD Director Dr. Padmaja Subbarao.

“I know the CHILD administrative team also benefited immensely from the experiences and information shared here on myriad practical details involved in running these complex studies. This was a tremendously impactful event; it would be well worth organizing additional symposia in future to keep these connections active, to keep our skills up-to-date, and to continue pooling our ever-evolving knowledge across international boundaries.”

The event took place 29-31 January 2024 in SickKids’ Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning on Bay Street in downtown Toronto.  Its was co-organized by CHILD and SickKids with support from Genome Canada, Geneome Alberta, Genome British Columbia, Ontario Genomics, McMaster University, CHU Sainte-Justine/Université de Montréal, Schroeder Allergy & Immunology Research Centre, and AllerGen Inc.