Hamilton scholars win awards for birth control, pregnancy, anxiety research

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Published July 19, 2022 at 9:50 am

Hamilton scholars win awards for birth control, pregnancy, anxiety research
Jennifer Williams (left) and Melissa Furtado (right), PhD candidates at McMaster University in Hamilton, were named 2022 Ontario Women’s Health Scholars for their research. (McMaster University photo)

Two PhD candidates at McMaster University in Hamilton were named 2022 Ontario Women’s Health Scholars for their innovative research.

Jennifer Williams has been recognized for her research investigating the connection between oral contraception pills and women’s cardiovascular health.

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Melissa Furtado has received a renewal on her 2021 scholar award for her research on mitigating anxiety during and after pregnancy.

Both will receive scholarships of up to $50,000 to continue their research.

Williams, who works in the Vascular Dynamics Lab at Mac, investigates the effect of sex hormones — including those found in hormonal contraceptives — on early risk factors for cardiovascular disease in women.

Hamilton scholars win awards for birth control, pregnancy, anxiety research

According to her research, approximately 1.3 million Canadian women are currently using oral contraception pills, and they are the most common prescription for women in Canada between the ages of 15 and 44. Yet, minimal research exists exploring the short and long-term effects of hormonal oral contraception pills on measures of cardiovascular health, according to Williams.

Her doctoral research aims to investigate these effects using artery response to a series of stimuli, alongside other indicators, such as the stiffness of arteries and markers found in blood, observed using ultrasound technology.

Melissa Furtado is investigating effective and safe treatment options for anxiety in pregnant and perinatal individuals to improve health outcomes for both the parent and child.

Furtado, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, studied psychosocial and biological risk factors of postpartum anxiety worsening in individuals with pre-existing anxiety disorders as part of her master’s research.

Hamilton scholars win awards for birth control, pregnancy, anxiety research

She focuses on the area of intolerance of uncertainty and developing a potentially preventative psychological treatment for postpartum anxiety.

Furtado’s research will examine the use of a new Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) program for intolerance of uncertainty to be completed during pregnancy and will investigate how effective this low-risk, focused treatment can be in this population.

Her study, if successful, will be the first to determine if a low-risk, focused treatment during pregnancy could prevent the development of postpartum anxiety.

The annual awards are funded by the Ontario government and administered by the Council of Ontario Universities.

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