In Profile: Eva Grunfeld

Eva Grunfeld
Professor Eva Grunfeld

A key goal at the Lawson Centre is to translate research knowledge into tangible actions that improve child health. This is where Professor Eva Grunfeld comes in.

Grunfeld is an expert in cancer health services and care, and the director of the Knowledge Translation Research Network of the Health Services Research Program at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. “What we are really starting to understand is that several common cancers, including ovarian, breast, and colorectal, are linked to obesity,” she says. “Having a meaningful impact on childhood obesity could have important implications on the incidence of cancer as well.”

Fundamental principles in cancer knowledge translation also apply to child nutrition. But child nutrition knowledge translation has to be tailored to particular groups, says Grunfeld, noting that child malnutrition and obesity are not just a problems related to the health care system; they are rooted in broader societal issues.”

Grunfeld cites citizen engagement in research as one key to meaningful solutions. “You absolutely have to have the perspective of those people who are affected by the research — such as parents and children — on interpretation of research results,” she says. “By engaging the people who will be users of new knowledge, and involving them in research from the beginning, scientists can ensure the questions they investigate and their results are interpreted and communicated in a relevant manner.”

Scientists also have to be keenly aware of the contextual factors in their fields of research. Study results may mean very different things for people who live in downtown Toronto versus those in Northern Ontario, for example. Anticipating potential barriers to knowledge translation in various contexts can mean quicker and more efficient use of new findings.
In translational research, scientists talk about the ‘valleys of death’ — gaps between the conduct of research and its translation to the next step in the research process. A big gap is the translation of laboratory discoveries to human subjects. Another is moving clinical results into routine medical practice and public health policy. “The mandate of translational research is to overcome these valleys of death, because research for its own sake is not good enough anymore,” says Grunfeld.

Grunfeld also emphasizes the role of public policy in the application of research, and notes the Lawson Centre’s relationships with government agencies can help facilitate knowledge translation. “We have to make sure that the teams working on child malnutrition and obesity are truly multidisciplinary and include a focus on the translation and communication of possible solutions to policy-makers,” she says.