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Motherisk News: Oh Baby ... Motherisk turns 25!

Founder reflects on a quarter-century of empowering pregnant women and protecting babies

TORONTO – Twenty-five years ago, many expectant mothers who had concerns about exposure to medications, alcohol and drugs, or chemicals had a hard time finding reliable facts on the subject. Even their physicians often needed advice on how to counsel their patients, but a lack of evidence-based research meant that accurate information was sometimes hard to come by.

Back in 1985, Dr. Gideon Koren was a trainee in the Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). Recognizing the need for counselling services, clinical research and teaching in this area, Koren created the Motherisk Program at SickKids.

Motherisk's mandate is to safely treat the mother without hurting the baby and today, the program is widely recognized as the pre-eminent international centre for the study of the safety or risk of medications used during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Motherisk provides information and guidance to pregnant or breastfeeding women and health-care professionals regarding risks to the fetus or infant from exposure to drugs, chemicals, diseases, radiation and environmental agents.

"In many cases we have shown that medications are safe during pregnancy," says Koren, Director of Motherisk and Senior Scientist at SickKids, as well as Professor in Paediatrics, Pharmacology, Pharmacy and Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto. Koren cites antidepressants and morning-sickness drugs as examples of those medications that many women previously avoided due to fear of causing harm to their unborn child and as a result, suffered throughout their pregnancy. "This information has empowered women to treat their conditions without hurting the baby."

With trainees flocking to Motherisk from more than 40 countries, one of the program's crowning achievements is the fact that several trainees have returned to their home countries to replicate the program. Thousands of women around the world have benefited from Motherisk and related programs in Japan, Brazil, Israel, Korea and Australia.

"The whole world is coming here to learn with us," he says, adding that these alliances have provided Motherisk with important opportunities to collaborate on research projects with its international network of colleagues. "It's a huge feeling of pride that we have managed to affect the world in this way."

At the core of Motherisk's success is its ability to conduct research into previously-untapped areas like exposure to medications during pregnancy and breastfeeding, fetal alcohol syndrome, cancer and associated therapies in pregnancy, folic acid and even morning sickness. Motherisk also operates a call centre which enables Canadian parents to obtain advice and address concerns related to exposure to medications, alcohol and substance abuse, morning sickness, HIV and its treatment.

In 1989, Motherisk received international acclaim with its groundbreaking discovery that evidence of a mother's drug and alcohol abuse can be found in the baby's hair. Hair-follicle testing is now being used worldwide, as it "provides a window to what happened before you could even touch the baby," Koren says. "It really revolutionized this whole area."

After a quarter-century of far-reaching impact, Koren is not prepared to rest on his laurels. "I don't celebrate well. I'll continue to work," he chuckles, adding that new areas of counselling, research and training are in store for Motherisk. Current "hot topics" include the safety of new medications as more drugs come on the market in Canada, as well as the issue of obesity among pregnant and breastfeeding women.

The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is recognized as one of the world's foremost paediatric health-care institutions and is Canada's leading centre dedicated to advancing children's health through the integration of patient care, research and education. Founded in 1875 and affiliated with the University of Toronto, SickKids is one of Canada's most research-intensive hospitals and has generated discoveries that have helped children globally. Its mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized family-centred care; pioneer scientific and clinical advancements; share expertise; foster an academic environment that nurtures health-care professionals; and champion an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. SickKids is proud of its vision for Healthier Children. A Better World. For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca.

View slideshow of the Motherisk Special Anniversary Rounds »»


For more information, please contact:

Matet Nebres
The Hospital for Sick Children

Suzanne Gold
The Hospital for Sick Children
416-813-7654, ext. 2059

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* - "MOTHERISK - Treating the mother - Protecting the unborn" is an official mark of The Hospital for Sick Children. All rights reserved.

The information on this website is not intended as a substitute for the advice and care of your doctor or other health-care provider. Always consult your doctor if you have any questions about exposures during pregnancy and before you take any medications.

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The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is a health-care, teaching and research centre dedicated exclusively to children; affiliated with the University of Toronto. For general inquires please call: 416-813-1500.

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