Oct. 21, 2021

Killam Laureate on a mission to improve health of preterm babies (and she’s getting results)

Shirin Moossavi named University of Calgary Killam Postdoctoral Laureate
Shirin Moossavi
Shirin Moossavi

Leading a clinical trial study of infants born preterm, University of Calgary postdoctoral fellow Dr. Shirin Moossavi, MD, PhD, discovered something remarkable — certain probiotics could help accelerate the development of an infant’s gut microbiome.

Some probiotics worked so well that they helped infants reach a gut microbiome level comparable to that of full-term baby who had been breastfed, considered the gold standard.

Moossavi is a co-principal investigator of the project and recipient of a UCalgary Killam Postdoctoral Laureate, offered to top scholars at the university to help ensure their groundbreaking research continues.

Area of research holds promise

“It allows greater independence and support for me to achieve my research goals and brings me closer to the vision of the robust and innovative research program I am trying to achieve,” says Moossavi, who is pursuing other projects to further explore this exciting finding and validate the benefit of probiotic supplementation.

I feel a deep sense of responsibility — I see the Killam honour as recognition of my potential, and I am motivated to fulfill the trust placed in me through research that reinforces the importance of science and benefits society.

Every year, over 30,000 Canadian infants are born prematurely, resulting in an estimated cost of $8 billion to the health-care system and immense socioeconomic cost to families. Prematurity is the leading cause of infant mortality, and preterm infants are at increased risk of short-term life-threatening inflammatory disorders.

“I am aiming to develop microbiome-based diagnostics for preterm infant health, a technology and a device that can do this work currently does not exist,” she says.

Study cuts across disciplines

Her work is a cross-disciplinary collaboration between co-advisors Dr. Marie Claire Arrieta, PhD, from the Snyder Institute For Chronic Diseases in the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and Schulich School of Engineering’s Dr. Amir Sanati Nezhad, PhD. This research also advances the Precision Biodiagnostics focus area in the Engineering Solutions for Health: Biomedical Engineering research strategy.

Moossavi earned a medical degree from Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran in 2008 and a master’s in genetics and molecular biology at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom in 2010. She achieved her PhD in medical microbiology at the University of Manitoba in 2020, earning the Emerging Leader Award and a Governor General’s Gold Medal for outstanding achievement for her research on milk and the infant microbiome. She is the winner of numerous other awards and accolades, including being named a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Postdoctoral Fellow in 2020.

Shirin Moossavi is a postdoctoral fellow in the CSM’s Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and Schulich School of Engineering’s Biomedical Engineering.

Marie Claire Arrieta, is an assistant professor in the departments of Physiology & Pharmacology, and Paediatrics, and a member of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the CSM.

Amir Sanati Nezhad is an associate professor in the Schulich School of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering. He is a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Bio-Microelectromechanical Systems.

Child Health and Wellness
The University of Calgary is driving science and innovation to transform the health and wellbeing of children and families. Led by the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, top scientists across the campus are partnering with Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, and our community to create a better future for children through research.