York researcher brings her research on infant pain to Café scientifique

Not so long ago, many in the medical profession thought infants didn’t feel pain, and whether it was a heel prick or open heart surgery, pain relief was not required. York psychology Professor Rebecca Pillai Riddell (BA Spec. Hons. ’96), had a different take – that infants did experience pain and it was important to figure out just how much and how to manage it.

Pillai Riddell will share her research with the public as one of the featured presenters in a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Café scientifique taking place tonight from 6 to 8pm at the Gladstone Hotel in downtown Toronto. The event, “Ouch! Preventing and Managing Pain in the Real World”, is hosted by the Centre of Nursing at The Hospital for Sick Children in collaboration with CIHR.


Right: Rebecca Pillai Riddell


Joining Pillai Riddell in this informal discussion between leading researchers and the public are Anna Taddio, a professor in the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto and a pharmacist at the Hospital for Sick Children, and Denise Harrison, chair in Nursing Care of Children, Youth & Families at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and the University of Ottawa. The event will be moderated by Tom Blackwell, senior national reporter for The National Post.

Pillai Riddell runs York’s Opportunities to Understand Childhood Hurt Laboratory (OUCH Lab) and is an associate scientist in The Hospital for Sick Children’s Department of Psychiatry Research. She has two research programs on the go, both looking at pain in infancy.

Her first, Understanding Chronic Pain in Infancy, is designed to define what chronic pain is in infancy, to establish a baseline that everyone can agree on, because right now there isn’t one, and to develop a measure to assess it. Chronic pain goes beyond acute pain, which is more temporary in nature – heel pricks, regular needles or post-operative – and can have implications on a person’s life into adulthood.

In collaboration with researchers at York, the University of Toronto, The Hospital for Sick Children as well as Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the Women’s College Hospital, and armed with a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) operating grant, Pillai Riddell is looking at infants in the neonatal intensive care units of hospitals. This is where many premature infants experience ongoing pain as medical procedures are performed. “With that comes an enormous amount of iatrogenically induced pain or pain that is a result of the life-saving treatments.”

The goal is to better understand chronic pain in infants by talking with parents, health professionals and national and international experts, which can then be used to develop a conceptual model of chronic pain in infants, followed by a reliable and valid assessment measure, and finally strategies for infant chronic pain management.

Café scientifiques started in the late 20th century as an informal discussion about scientific subjects. They were never intended to be lectures. The same holds true for CIHR Café scientifiques. They provide insight into health-related issues of popular interest to the general public, and in turn provoke questions and provide answers.

For that reason, the CIHR Café scientifiques are all about accessibility. They involve interaction between the public and experts in a given field at a café, a pub or a restaurant. If you want to take part in a CIHR Café scientifique, there is no need for you to have a science degree. You just need to have a deep-rooted desire to talk about a particular health subject. That way you could learn how health research may provide answers to any questions that are on your mind.

You can’t be there in person? Join the CIHR Café Scientifique group on Facebook.