Karen Patte earns Early Career Research honour

There’s one fact central to all of Karen Patte’s research: what happens in childhood and adolescence can shape health and success into adulthood.

“It’s important to consider not just individual behaviours or biological factors but how these interact with the social contexts in which they live, so we ensure all youth have the opportunity to flourish,” says the Associate Professor of Health Sciences.

For her many impactful research projects, Patte has been awarded Brock University’s 2022 Award for Early Career Research and Creative Activity.

“Dr. Patte has already made significant advancements in our understanding of how experiences early in life shape future physical and mental health outcomes,” says Associate Vice-President, Research Michelle McGinn. “Her partnerships with researchers within Brock and across Canada have extended the reach and impact of this important work.”

Along with Scott Leatherdale at the University of Waterloo, Patte is well known for co-leading the nationwide COMPASS study, which surveys more than 70,000 secondary school students every year in Ontario, Alberta, Quebec and British Columbia. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is funding the project until 2027.

The project studies how individual, social and environmental factors, including policies and programs at the school and government levels, affect youth health and behaviours, such as substance use, sleep, physical activity, screen use, diet and bullying, among others.

Patte developed and led the mental health components of the study before becoming the project’s co-leader.

“These data from before and during COVID are now particularly unique and valuable to shed light on its impact,” she says. “We are able to determine if there are sustained changes in mental health over time, who was most impacted, and even, who may have flourished during the restrictions.

“We aim to inform an equitable recovery and prevent long-lasting adverse impacts,” says Patte.

Last year, a research team led by Associate Professor of Health Sciences Adam MacNeil and Patte was awarded $250,000 from the Canadian government’s New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) for their project “Allergenicity from Childhood Adversity.”

The first-of-its-kind study is investigating if and how abuse, severe household dysfunction and other childhood traumas set the stage for a lifetime of suffering with allergies.

“By integrating social and psychological factors with biological systems, we are pioneering a new socio-immunological framework,” says Patte.

Patte is also involved in a research project with a team working in collaboration with Children’s Mental Health Ontario. The group is examining how to support siblings of children with mental illness — “a great need identified by families,” she says. “We’re working with families and clinicians as partners.”

Weaving her various research activities together is a passion for involving youth in all stages of the research process. To that end, Patte led the integration of a youth engagement program into the COMPASS study. As part of this work, her team formed the COMPASS Youth Knowledge Mobilization Leaders committee.

“Engaging youth ensures that our research is impactful by better capturing and reflecting their experiences and needs,” she says.

Patte attributes her research successes to the opportunity to work with and learn from “great mentors, colleagues and students,” Brock’s “highly collaborative culture across disciplines” and an openness to multiple approaches.

“I’m humbled and grateful to receive this award,” she says. “Research is always a team effort.”

Brock University’s Award for Early Career Research and Creative Activity recognizes excellence in research exhibited by researchers who have held full-time academic appointment for five years or less.

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