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Government of Canada announces investment of $17M for project led by St. Michael’s researcher

Toronto, November 20, 2017

Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis
Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis will be leading the Canadian component of the HeLTI initiative. (Photo by Yuri Markarov)

Parliamentary Secretary Bill Blair was at St. Michael’s Hospital today, National Child Day, to announce more than $40-million in funding to support an international research initiative that’s focused on advancing child and family health. The Healthy Life Trajectories Initiative (HeLTI), led by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, seeks to prevent chronic disease in Canada, China, India and South Africa.

Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis, Women’s Health Research Chair at St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto, will lead the Canadian arm of the study, which will receive $17-million from the CIHR. The Canadian-focused study will work with 10,000 potential parents to improve health and habits even before pregnancy—which Dr. Dennis said is key because, in Canada, half of all pregnancies are unplanned.

“One-third of Canadian children are overweight at age 5,” said Dr. Dennis, who is also a scientist with the hospital’s Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute and professor with the university’s Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing. “HeLTI seeks to prevent chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease by understanding the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to these diseases and then studying interventions designed to promote good health from pre-conception to early childhood.”

Dr. Dennis said the Canadian HeLTI arm will address healthy habits and practices in four phases—pre-conception, pregnancy, infancy and early childhood. In each phase, participants will receive:

  • telephone-based collaborative care provided by nurses
  • personalized e-health interventions, based on identified risk factors that target health behaviours related to nutrition and breastfeeding, physical activity and sleep
  • information on a supportive and nurturing environment for the children and their family

“This research initiative will guide the development of new approaches to preventing chronic diseases and lay the groundwork for a healthy and productive future for our children,” said Canada’s Minisiter of Health, the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor.

From left to right: Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis, Dr. Art Slutsky, Bill Blair, then parents Matthew Bucci, Sabrina Campolucci and their daughter Layla
(From left to right) Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis, Dr. Art Slutsky, Bill Blair, then parents Matthew Bucci, Sabrina Campolucci and their daughter Layla.

In total, Canada’s investment in HeLTI is $33.4 million over five years. An additional $7.8 million is being provided through a partnership with national research agencies in India, China and South Africa.

“The Healthy Life Trajectories initiative brings together leading experts from Canada, India, South Africa, and China to tackle the global burden of non-communicable chronic diseases,” said Dr. Shoo Lee, scientific director, CIHR Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health. The results of this international collaborative effort will benefit children and families in Canada and worldwide.”

The Canadian lead scientist for each arm of HeLTI is:

  • Canada: Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis, St. Michael’s Hospital and University of Toronto
  • China: Dr. William Fraser, Université de Sherbrooke
  • South Africa: Dr. Stephen Lye, Sinai Health System and University of Toronto
  • India: Dr. Stephen Matthews, University of Toronto

CIHR has also recently launched a process to create an Indigenous component of HeLTI in Canada in consultation with Indigenous communities.


This paper is an example of how St. Michael's Hospital is making Ontario Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 29 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.