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Dr. Brandy Winquist (PhD) is the leader of the project in Saskatchewan and is an adjunct professor in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology within the College of Medicine at USask. (Photo: Submitted)

New national data platform to track risks and benefits of medication use during pregnancy

Over 75 per cent of pregnant women take medications for which the risks or benefits are unknown. A new national data platform involving a University of Saskatchewan (USask) researcher announced today takes aim at improving health outcomes for women and babies across the country.

The Canadian Mother-Child Cohort Active Surveillance Initiative (CAMCCO) has been awarded nearly $1.2 million by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and an additional $1.79 million from partner organizations to consolidate data from patients in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced more than $518 million to support the infrastructure needs of universities and research institutions across the country.

The new platform will include data on an estimated four million pregnancies over 25 years. It will be one of the largest and most representative longitudinal data sets of pregnancies, mothers, and children in the world.

Medication use during pregnancy is an important public health issue. Yet not enough is known about the safety of many drugs because pregnant women are generally excluded from clinical trials,” said Dr. Brandy Winquist (PhD), leader of the project in Saskatchewan and adjunct professor in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology within the College of Medicine at USask. “Research that will be done using this new platform will help to identify risks and, ultimately, help to prevent harm to mothers and their children.”

To avoid privacy and data sharing challenges, data will stay within and under the control of each province. While the results will be pooled, the underlying data will not.

Winquist’s component of the project will receive $336,000 in funding to develop a harmonized data infrastructure that links the de-identified health data of Saskatchewan mothers and their children.

Winquist is an investigator in the Canadian Network of Observational Drug Effect Studies and leads research in the areas of maternal and child health, health services, and population health. She will be collaborating with a team of researchers across Canada, including principal investigator Dr. Anick Bérard from the Université de Montréal and CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre.

By combining data from mothers and babies across multiple provinces, the information will help identify rare adverse effects and conditions diagnosed years after a drug is used and help inform how medications are prescribed during pregnancy and childhood.

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More than half of pregnancies are unplanned, which leads to accidental exposure to medications because women are not aware they are pregnant. Exposure to medications also occurs during planned pregnancies, either due to maternal chronic illnesses, or acute conditions that develop during pregnancy.

The first research studies using the data will focus on the overall impact of antidepressant use during pregnancy—expected to be the largest Canadian study of its kind to date—and on prescription opioids, among the types of medication used most frequently by Canadian women during pregnancy.

CAMCCO will also put in place a maternal-child health surveillance system that will track differences in health outcomes and trends across provinces in real-time.

The data platform will be developed in collaboration with the Saskatchewan Health Quality Council, an independent organization that accelerates improvement in the quality of health and health care in Saskatchewan.

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