A face-to-face with our research leaders—Dr Suzanne Morin
Although a relative late-comer to the field of research, general internist Dr. Suzanne Morin has more than made up for the lost time. Since obtaining her Master's degree in Epidemiology and Biostatistics from McGill University in 2007, after 10 years of established clinical practice, she has been involved many exciting projects. Below is an interview with Dr. Suzanne Morin, a scientist whose main research interest is health-related outcomes of osteoporosis.
Your biggest project at the moment looks at the potential negative impact of calcium intake on vascular disease. Could you tell us more about that?
Suzanne Morin: We know that women and men need calcium for optimal bone health and obtain this calcium either from food or supplements. In the past years, a few studies have shown that calcium from supplements might be harmful to our blood vessels and therefore could be detrimental to our heart health. These studies did not use the best methodology, so we proposed and received funding for a randomized control trial to investigate these results. We are recruiting post-menopausal women, because they are more likely to develop osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. During one year we will follow one group of women who will get calcium mostly from supplements and another group who will get it mostly from their diets. We will assess the health of their arteries through blood tests and ultrasound at the beginning of the intervention and after 12 months. So far, we've recruited half of the women, and results should be available in approximately two years.
You started your career as a dietician. How does that help you in this particular study?
S.M.: I was a nutritionist before I became a physician. So I'm refreshing my knowledge of several nutrition concepts and I've been working closely with nutritionists and researchers in nutrition. In the past, we used to work in closed groups in our own field, but now we collaborate across teams and themes. That's wonderful, because it helps us grow as researchers.
You're also involved in a five-year project that studies patients with a rare type of fracture of the femur associated with prolonged use of medication to treat osteoporosis. That seems contradictory.
S.M.: Yes, it does. But in clinical practice we started to see more and more patients with femur fractures without having fallen, which was unusual. The scientific community decided to investigate further. We found out that the geometry of the femur in these patients was slightly different from people who don't have these fractures, and we think that in this very small subset of patients, medication for osteoporosis they were taking may accentuate micro fissures in the femur already present prior to the initiation of the medication. We've created a provincial registry to get a complete picture of patients with those atypical fractures so that we can identify in advance who is at risk of developing this serious complication. We're also collaborate with other colleagues in Canada who have similar registries.
Bone health is your main interest, but which area in particular do you concentrate on?
S.M.: I'm interested in clinical outcomes in the older population with osteoporosis, particularly those who have experienced a hip fracture. Around 6 500 people suffer a hip fracture every year in Quebec and most of these people are elderly and need operations, hospitalization and rehabilitation. This is a costly process. My main goal is to improve bone health in these patients, but also ensure that after a hip fracture they have access to the proper healthcare resources to recover their mobility so they can live independently. Ideally, of course, we'd like to be able to treat patients with osteoporosis to prevent fractures altogether.
In 2012, you received the Challenge Q+ award, an important grant from the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) that encourages innovation and creativity in patient care. Tell us about you winning project, called PainFree.
S.M.: We wanted to help seniors with bone fractures cope with their pain and reduce the chances of adverse medical complications. The Emergency Room is a busy place. Elderly patients can easily become confused, which makes pain management more complicated. We created an educational intervention for patients, nurses, physicians and the public to demonstrate that we take pain management seriously at the MUHC.
You started your research career quite late, after practicing Internal Medicine at the MGH and teaching Medicine at McGill University for many years. You were also raising a young family at the time. You eventually became a Clinical Research Scholar from FRQS and, in 2009, received the Lindy Fraser Memorial Award from Osteoporosis Canada, in recognition for your contribution to osteoporosis education and research. How was that career path?
S.M.: I enjoyed doing all those things! At home, we had to be super organized. I shared duties with my husband, who is also a physician, and we had much help from my in-laws. Those were busy times. I also benefitted from the mentorship and guidance of Dr. Louise Pilote and Dr. David Goltzman, two fabulous and successful researchers. I was delighted when I got my FRQS salary award as this provided essential support for my research program.
Your father, retired Cardiologist Dr. Yves Morin, is a former Senator and former Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Université Laval. He was also a respected scientist. What influence did he have on your career?
S.M.: He was very important. My father was part of the first wave of clinician researchers in Quebec. When we were young, he used to take me and my brothers to his lab to ‘help' him. He taught me the importance of honesty. If you're honest with patients and colleagues, they will trust you, and you will develop lasting collaborations. I followed in his footsteps and I teach this to my students as well.
Dr. Morin also appears in a video recently made by the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé on Canal Savoir, where she talks about a recent research she is leading on osteoporosis and calcium supplements. Click here to watch the video.