Team Grant: Advancing Boys' and Men's Health Research (2014-2019)

In response to the urgent need for increased attention and research capacity in the area of boys' and men's health, the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health and its partnersFootnote 1 launched the Team Grant: Advancing Boys' and Men's Health Research funding opportunity. This unique funding initiative supports interdisciplinary and intersectoral teams of health researchers and knowledge users who are committed to the pursuit of solutions-focused, collaborative approaches to improving boys' and men's health.

With a total investment of $11,700,000 over five years, the Advancing Boys' and Men's Health Research funding initiative will:

  • Support collaborative research that contributes to new knowledge and innovative approaches for addressing key challenges affecting boys' and men's health.
  • Build research capacity and nurture the next generation of researchers
  • Foster the ethical translation of knowledge by supporting collaborations between researchers and knowledge users that contribute to programs, interventions and evidence-informed policy decisions for improving boys' and men's health.

Why focus on boys and men?

Despite faring better economically overall, men have a shorter average life expectancy than women, access health services less frequently and experience higher mortality rates across many leading causes of death—including heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, unintentional injuries and suicide.

In recent years, there has been increasing interest in these disparities and calls for action to improve boys' and men's health in Canada. However, to develop evidence-informed programs, interventions and policies that will have real impact on boys' and men's health, we need more research in this area.

Meet the teams

Father's lasting influence: Molecular foundations of intergenerational transmission of the paternal environment

Principal Investigators

  • Janice Bailey
  • Amanda MacFarlane
  • Arnaud Droit
  • Hélène Jacques
  • Sarah Kimmins
  • Jacquetta Trasler

We know that if a pregnant woman is exposed to environmental contaminants, it can affect the health of her child. But recent findings suggest that fathers' environmental exposures can also be passed on to his unborn children. One way that fathers could transmit this environmental information is through the sperm epigenome—a group of DNA tags, which tell genes when to turn off or on.

While there are international rules that restrict the use of certain pesticides and other organochlorines, DDT is still allowed in many parts of the world where malaria is a danger, including South Africa. Due to natural weather currents, organocholrines can bioaccumulate in regions where they have never even been used, such as the Arctic. Our international team uses state-of-the-art approaches to study the role of fathers in transmitting organocholorine exposures to future generations.

We know that Inuit populations have a high body burden of environmental contaminants through air, water, soil and food. These environmental influences could be a contributing factor to the major health disparity between Inuit populations and non-aboriginal Canadians.

To assess abnormalities caused by organochlorine exposure, we are examining the sperm epigenome of Inuit and indigenous South African men. Using a rat model, we will try to fix the damage caused by contaminants using folate, a common vitamin prescribed to pregnant mothers to prevent birth defects.

Our team’s research, published in Nature Scientific Reports, found that exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) harms male reproduction across multiple generations. However, folic acid supplementation in males partly mitigated the negative impacts of POPs.

Funded by the CIHR Institute of Aboriginal Peoples' Health and CIHR Institute of Gender and Health

Contact information

Janice L. Bailey
Université Laval
418-656-2131 ext. 3354

HIV Prevention for Gay and Bisexual Men: A Multisite Study and Development of New HIV Prevention Interventions

Principal Investigators

  • Trevor Hart
  • Jody Jollimore
  • John Cox
  • Gilles Lambert
  • David Moore

Despite important advances in antiretroviral therapy (ART) that have resulted in improvements in health for HIV-infected individuals, half of new HIV cases in Canada continue to be among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM). Across Canadian cities, HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is unacceptably high, ranging from 18% in Vancouver to 24% in Toronto. The rollout of ART to everyone (regardless of income) and use of medications to reduce new cases of HIV is prominent in British Columbia, but has not been funded as a public health policy in Quebec and Ontario.

To understand how cross-provincial differences are associated with recent HIV prevalence and to address knowledge gaps in HIV prevention, we have created a national team to collaborate on HIV prevention among men who have sex with men. Our team has three overlapping goals:

  • Contribute to Canada's gbMSM HIV and sexually-transmitted infection prevention initiatives, and promote sexual health among gbMSM
  • Build research capacity for a pan-Canadian research network on HIV prevention research for gbMSM
  • Inform stakeholders and decision-makers.

Our team’s research, published in The Journal of Sex Research, found that anti-gay bullying is associated with adult psychological distress among gay and bisexual men, through negative automatic thoughts and attitudes towards oneself. This can be successfully treated through cognitive behavioural therapy.

Funded by the Ontario HIV Treatment Network, Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research and CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity

Contact information

Dr. Trevor Hart
Ryerson University
Department of Psychology
416-979-5000 ext. 2179

Shape the Path: Targeting the Health and Mobility of Older Men through Key Community Partnerships

Principal Investigators

  • Heather McKay
  • Matthew Herman
  • Joan Sims-Gould

Shape the Path aims to lessen the substantial burden of mobility-disability in older men. To do so we examine factors (e.g. ethnicity, gender, environment, socioeconomic status) that influence older men's ability to 'go where they want to go, when they want to go there, and how they want to get there'. Considering mobility as a 'capacity' facilitates older men's independence and their quality of life.

We assess capacity in a number of ways based on what men can actually do ('enacted capacity') and what they think they can do ('perceived capacity') across 3 distinct settings:

  • community
  • home care
  • residential care

We use a variety of research methods to develop an in-depth understanding of men's experiences and other factors related to participation in physical activity, as this is closely linked with their mobility. We will combine those new understandings with existing knowledge to intervene with setting-specific programs and strategies designed to enhance capacity and promote physical activity and safe mobility among older men. Importantly, we work closely with committed community stakeholders who guide the questions we ask. Together, we will deliver our findings back to those who can benefit from what we learned through dissemination of relevant programs, practices and policies.

Learn more about our team’s current activities through our Shape the Path website and watch our documentary that addresses issues of mobility and isolation.

Funded by the CIHR Institute of Aging and CIHR Institute of Gender and Health

Contact information

Dr. Heather McKay
University of British Columbia
Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute

Impact of paternal age on the health of gametes: risk of potential adverse outcomes

Principal Investigator

  • Bernard Robaire

Over the past 20 years, there is a clear trend for men to start having children at an increasingly older age, and we are only beginning to grasp the resulting impact on fertility and child health outcomes. Our team examines how the trajectory of aging presents health challenges for older men and their children. Paternal age is linked to higher rates of infertility, higher incidence of miscarriage among partners, and a higher risk for offspring to develop complex multi-gene diseases such as autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disease.

Our central hypothesis is that the trajectory of aging alters the quality of the sperm being delivered to the oocyte, and that there is a direct relationship between infertility, paternal age, chromatin quality, epigenetic marks, and outcomes for offspring.

Previous research has paid little attention to sperm quality as men move along their aging trajectory, and the consequences of increased paternal age are only beginning to be demonstrated in studies from other countries. Our team has gathered the essential complementary expertise to make significant advances in this field. Our results will not only have positive consequences for men as they appreciate the link between aging and sperm quality, but will also serve to decrease the health burden on future generations.

Our research, published in Nature Reviews Urology, has found that fathering children at a later age increases the risk of offspring developing complex multigene diseases.

Funded by the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health

Contact information

Dr. Bernard Robaire
McGill University
Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Promoting Physical and Mental Health in Men Facing Fertility Issues

Principal Investigators

  • Phyllis Zelkowitz
  • Francois Bénard

Our team aims to promote reproductive health among men in the general population, and address the specific needs of two groups of men facing infertility concerns:

  • men undergoing assessment and treatment for infertility
  • young adult cancer survivors whose diagnosis and treatment may have adversely affected their fertility

 Men in these target groups are at high risk for both physical and emotional problems, yet their specific needs are seldom addressed in research. Since men are less likely than women to seek treatment for physical or emotional issues, there is an urgent need to develop new ways to promote their health and wellness. Mobile health, the practice of medicine and public health on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, may be a promising way to do so.

In order to develop a mobile health intervention, we are reviewing the quality of existing educational resources and surveying men in our target groups about their knowledge of health risks associated with infertility, and their information and support needs. We will also ask health professionals about the types of educational and support resources that are available, and what is needed.

This information will help us to develop a mobile health application to provide easily accessible information, support, and tools to promote a healthy lifestyle in men facing fertility concerns. We will evaluate the effects of this type of intervention on quality of life, patient empowerment, psychological symptoms and mental wellness, physical activity and diet, and patient satisfaction.

"There is an important need to broaden the conversation about infertility and it's physical, emotional, and social consequences, to include the experience of men,"

Dr. Zelkowitz

Published survey findings from our research team show a desire for social support in male cancer and infertility patients. Men also showed an interest in accessing online support for infertility. Our research team is developing an app that will support men going through infertility treatments. The IGH-produced fact sheet highlights our research on men’s knowledge of their own fertility.

Funded by the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health

Contact information

Dr. Phyllis Zelkowitz
Jewish General Hospital (Montreal)
514.340.8222 ext. 5258

The HPV-SAVE Study Team: HPV Screening and Vaccine Evaluation in men who have sex with men

Principal Investigators

  • Irving Salit
  • Ron Rosenes

Infection by certain high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV) is the major cause of several serious cancers in men, including anal, penile and head and neck cancers. Anal infection by high-risk HPV is much more common in men who have sex with men (MSM), particularly HIV-positive MSM. We also know that rates of anal cancer in the general population are increasing, and that HIV-positive MSM are at much higher risk. Despite these alarming trends, optimal protocols to screen for and treat anal HPV and pre-cancerous lesions have not been established. The role of HPV vaccination in this community is also unclear, as there has been very little experience with it. Finally, not only does HPV directly cause disease, but infection also enhances the sexual transmission of HIV through mechanisms that are unclear.

Our team brings together community and internationally-recognized experts in HPV disease and mucosal immunology to better understand these important issues, and to better define the optimal approach to HPV screening and management in HPV-positive MSM. We also aim to shed light on how this common infection impacts HIV transmission. Our team hopes to provide critical information to improve the health of HIV-positive MSM, and will provide an additional rationale for the provision of timely interventions (e.g. HPV vaccination) to help combat HPV's effects in this highly impacted community.

Part of our research, published in PLOS One, included conducting interviews with HIV-positive gay men in Toronto to gain an understanding of their knowledge related to HPV and the HPV vaccine. Men frequently reported initial beliefs that HPV was mainly a risk for females and had therefore not considered the vaccine to be necessary.

Funded by the Ontario HIV Treatment Network and CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity

Contact information

Dr. Irving Salit
University Health Network (Toronto)
416.340.4800 ext. 3697

Reducing HIV Vulnerabilities and Promoting Resilience Among Heterosexual Self-Identified African, Caribbean and Black Men in Ontario

Principal Investigators

  • Josephine Wong
  • Winston Husband
  • Josephine Etowa
  • Isaac Luginaah
  • Francisca Omorodion

Research evidence shows that heterosexual African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) men experience social inequality that increases their vulnerabilities to HIV. At the same time, ACB men have been left adrift by programs, services and research that have struggled to keep pace with the changing epidemiology of HIV.

The goal of our research program, weSpeak, is to reduce HIV vulnerabilities and promote resilience through active engagement of self-identified heterosexual ACB men in community HIV responses, programs, research, and policy. Using a mixed methods approach, we aim to:

  • mobilize self-identified heterosexual ACB men to address conditions that contribute to HIV related health disparities;
  • examine social and behavioural vulnerabilities to HIV among self-identified heterosexual ACB men;
  • identify individual and structural factors that promote resilience and reduce HIV risks among self-identified heterosexual ACB men;
  • build individual, community, and organizational capacity and leadership to address HIV disparities among self-identified heterosexual ACB men and communities through research, programming, and policy; and
  • generate new knowledge and support its translation into intervention, practice, and policy in Ontario and Canada

Our research program will address the programming and policy gaps affecting heterosexual ACB men in Ontario, reduce HIV-related and other social stigma, enhance HIV prevention messaging in ACB communities, and strengthen ACB men's involvement in community responses to HIV.

Learn more about our team’s current activities through the weSpeak website and our “Real Talk Session” fact sheets.

Funded by the Ontario HIV Treatment Network, CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity, and CIHR Institute of Gender and Health

Contact information

Dr. Josephine Pui-Hing Wong
Ryerson University
School of Nursing
416.979.5000 Ext. 6303

Twitter: @weSpeakONT

Understanding health risks and promoting resilience in male youth with sexual violence experience

Principal Investigator

  • Christine Wekerle

Our team tackles the hidden problem of sexual violence victimization among male youths, from early adolescence to young adulthood. Sexual violence reflects a range of unwanted, coercive and non-consensual experiences, including sexting, childhood sexual abuse, sexual coercion in dating relationships, sexual exploitation and rape.

Sexual violence represents a human rights, public health, and gender-based issue. Males experiencing sexual violence present to varying service systems yet may never have their victimization recognized, and when required, trauma-focused services may not exist or be made available. Further, some victims may be asymptomatic and function well in daily living.

Importantly, our projects target both contexts of challenge (e.g. rural/remote Aboriginal; child welfare; homelessness), as well as contexts of resilience (e.g. high school or university attending). With stakeholders, our team seeks to fill in gaps on the level of sexual violence among male youths, the processes underlying both impairment and resilience, and promising interventions.

Our team is developing an app, JoyPop, which will help build resilience in youth who have suffered from childhood sexual violence. Our team has also developed a YouTube video on our research and suggested strategies to assist male sexual abuse victims.

Funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health

Contact information

Dr. Christine Wekerle
McMaster University

Twitter: @ResilienceInYou

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