Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions invests $5 million to study infections causing vomiting and diarrhea in 4,500 children

Nov. 21, 2014

Dr. Stephen Freedman
Rose Farrell, daughter Gwen, and Dr. Stephen Freedman

For Rose Farrell, every time her five year old daughter, Gwen, comes down with vomiting or diarrhea, it is concerning.  It’s upsetting when she’s not well, and adds stress to the family. In Alberta, over 30,000 children are admitted to emergency departments each year suffering from a severe intestinal infection.  Young children are particularly vulnerable experiencing nearly two intestinal infections each year.  A new research team in Alberta, supported by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions, is hoping to change all that.

The Alberta Provincial Pediatric EnTeric Infection TEam (APPETITE) will bring together the province’s top health care leaders, clinicians, and scientists to study the bugs causing intestinal infections in children. They are looking to determine the frequency of an expansive list of viral and bacterial germs that cause vomiting and diarrhea in children with the goal of informing policy makers about ways to simplify diagnosis while simultaneously building economic models that will be used to guide vaccine policy.

The lead investigator of this research team is Dr. Stephen Freedman, an emergency doctor at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and a clinician scientist in the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine.

“Vomiting and diarrhea remain one of the most common reasons children aged six to 24 months are brought for emergency department care in Canada. These symptoms are extremely worrisome to parents and can, on occasion, lead to life-threatening conditions,” says Dr. Freedman.

“Reducing illness, risk, and anxiety for children and their families improves the health and wellbeing of all Albertans,” says Dr. Cy Frank, AIHS President and CEO. “Collaborations such as Dr. Freedman’s focused on priority areas of health are the way to accelerate innovation for our health and health system.”

More information can be found on the study’s website:



Dr. Freedman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Paediatrics, Sections of Paediatric Emergency Medicine and Gastroenterology in the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary. Dr. Freedman is also the Vice-Chair of Pediatric Emergency Research Canada (PERC), a team of Canadian health care professionals who work collaboratively to conduct research to improve outcomes for children with acute medical conditions.

Dr. Stephen Freedman, along with his co-leads Drs. Marie Louie, Associate Medical Director of ProvLab; Bonita Lee, Assistant Medical Director of Infection Control; and Xiaoli Pang, Program Lead, ProvLab, have assembled a multidisciplinary, pan-Alberta team called the Alberta Provincial Pediatric EnTeric Infection TEam (APPETITE): Epidemiology, Emerging Organisms, and Economics. The team includes many collaborators from both the University of Calgary, the University of Alberta, policy makers from the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, and Alberta Health Services Medical Officers of Health. They were successful in securing $5 million over the next five years through a Collaborative Research and Innovation Opportunities (CRIO) Team award. There were four other teams who received funding to look at everything from stroke to multiple sclerosis.

The research team will evaluate novel specimen collection techniques (oral and rectal swabs) designed to simplify the approach to testing and reduce the demands placed on parents, and they will use new laboratory tests that are faster, more accurate, and test for more bugs than previously could be performed. Anyone under eighteen years can participate.  Initially recruitment will be done in emergency departments but the team plans to expand to include Alberta’s public health clinics, primary care physician offices, and Health Link Alberta. Families can take home (or will be mailed) a specimen kit and will  be given a number to call to arrange for specimen retrieval.

The team will combine the knowledge generated from these steps with assessments they will be performing of parent and child preferences regarding vaccines against bugs that cause vomiting and diarrhea. They will also evaluate caregiver preferences around specimen sampling and diagnostic testing to determine the optimal approaches to specimen collection and testing.

The Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute is a partner of the University of Calgary, Alberta Health Services and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation. Its 200 researchers search for answers to understand and treat childhood disease. Find them at

Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions supports research and innovation activities to improve the health and wellbeing of Albertans and creates value through innovation for health related social and economic benefits for Albertans. AIHS provides leadership for Alberta’s health research and innovation enterprise by enabling, coordinating, reviewing, funding and supporting research and innovation. For more information see:

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