Nutritional Sciences and Paediatrics
Over the past several decades, major advancements in medicine have allowed for more premature babies and infants with critical conditions to survive after birth than ever before. Despite these advances, about 10 per cent of Canadian babies are born before 37 weeks (a full-term pregnancy). This new population of younger, smaller, and very fragile newborns requires special care. Christopher Tomlinson has dedicated his career to looking after these infants.
Tomlinson is a staff neonatologist at the Hospital for Sick Children and an assistant professor in the departments of Nutritional Sciences and Paediatrics. Neonatology is a subspecialty of paediatrics dedicated to the care of newborn infants, in particular ill or premature newborns.
In his clinical work at SickKids, Tomlinson looks after preterm infants who may require surgical interventions to address congenital anomalies or other conditions. While not a surgeon himself, he provides care for children prior to and after their procedures.
“We have very vulnerable patients — the smallest human beings that you can look after. Some weigh less than a kilo,” says Tomlinson. “Many of them have a critical illness, and without the intensive care team intervention, their mortality rate would be extremely high. Our task, though, is not only their survival but in making sure these babies are going to live full healthy lives.”
Tomlinson works closely with staff dietitians to provide necessary nutritional support to the patients at SickKids’ Neonatal Intensive Care Unit so that they are prepared for surgical procedures and achieve optimal body weight and growth rates before their discharge.
In his research, Tomlinson is particularly focused on is determining optimal quantity and quality of protein required for infants’ growth.
Currently, he is participating in an on-going CIHR study on neonatal protein and energy metabolism, led by Paul Penchar. This research project is trying to determine the right balance of individual amino-acids needed for optimal growth and metabolism.
He also collaborates with Deborah O’Connor on her research on optimizing breastfeeding. Additionally, Tomlinson and O’Connor work to promote the benefits of breast milk for preterm babies, and help mothers with providing milk to their babies, or getting access to donor human milk.
Tomlinson explains that fortification of mothers' own milk is almost always required when feeding preterm infants. His research aims to make these formulae more efficient; however, one of the main challenges for paediatric nutrition researchers is getting commercial producers of baby foods to adjust their recipes in accordance with the latest scientific evidence. He hopes that the Lawson Centre helps with translation of the new knowledge, as well as making infants’ growth issues a priority for the government’s health policy.
“I work in an extremely narrow area, but there is a lot that we can learn and use from this narrow field,” says Tomlinson. “We can leverage this information for the benefit of the wider population of children who do not have critical illness but are not growing optimally either because of over- or undernutrition. This is due to a variety of reasons — largely social. We can continue looking for solutions and ways to advocate for the children through the Lawson Centre.”
At a glance:
Christopher Tomlinson, MB, ChB, PhD
- Determining optimal quantity and quality of protein required for infants’ growth
- Assistant Professor, Departments of Nutritional Sciences and Paediatrics, University of Toronto
- Staff Neonatologist, Department of Paediatrics, Division of Neonatology, Hospital for Sick Children
- Phone: 416-813-7654 x 2474
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org