In Profile: Christopher Tomlinson

Dr. Christopher Tomlison
Professor Christopher Tomlinson

Medical progress has allowed more premature babies and infants with critical conditions to survive than ever before. Still, about 10 per cent of Canadian babies are born before 37 weeks. Professor Christopher Tomlinson has dedicated his career to looking after these fragile infants.

“We have very vulnerable patients — the smallest human beings that you can look after. Some weigh less than a kilo,” says Tomlinson, an assistant professor in the Departments of Nutritional Sciences and Paediatrics at the University of Toronto, and a staff neonatologist at The Hospital for Sick Children. 

Tomlinson works closely with staff dietitians to provide nutritional support to the patients at SickKids’ neonatal intensive care unit, so they are prepared for surgery and achieve optimal body weight and growth before discharge. “Many of our patients 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 making sure these babies are going to live full healthy lives.”

In his research, Tomlinson focuses on the optimal quantity and quality of protein for growth. He is participating in a study with Paul Pencharz to determine the right balance of individual amino-acids for optimal growth and metabolism.

He also collaborates with Professor Deborah O’Connor on breastfeeding research. Together, they promote the benefits of breast milk for preterm babies, and help mothers provide milk to their babies or access donor human milk.

Tomlinson says fortification of mothers' own milk is almost always required when feeding preterm infants. But 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 the Lawson Centre will help with translation of this knowledge.

“I work in an extremely narrow area, but there is a lot that we can learn and use from this field,” says Tomlinson. “We can leverage this information for the benefit of children who do not have critical illness but are not growing optimally because of over- or undernutrition.”