Stereotypically, when we think of research, we perhaps picture a lab coat-cladded, serious-faced scientist with a microscope, surrounded by bubbling test tubes. If not to that extreme, ‘research’ typically brings about the connotation of big, scientific words and lengthy reports. There is very much a disconnect between the academic world and mainstream society, a discrepancy that has made research less accessible, partly due to the language barrier that exists between scientists and the general public. To counter this reality, there is a shift within the field to bridge the gap through a strategy known as “Knowledge Translation” (KT).
KT is the term used for activities that bring lab research and academic works into more practical application to the people within society. It can include educational outreach, such as with Dr. Paula James’ “Let’s Talk Period” initiative. A hematologist at Kingston General Hospital and professor at Queen’s University, Dr. James’ also runs her own research lab. The focus of study is Von Willebrand Disease (VWD), a genetic bleeding disorder caused by missing or defective Von Willebrand factor. Von Willebrand factor is an essential protein in the blood clotting process.
Although this condition is the most common bleeding disorder, equally affecting men and women, it is not very well known. Symptoms of frequent nosebleeds, easy bruising, and prolonged bleeding are often overlooked and dismissed, especially in men. Females are more commonly diagnosed due to the fact that heavy menstrual bleeding is another symptom of the disease.
“Let’s Talk Period” emerged as a practical resource and platform for education to combat the lack of awareness surrounding VWD and misconceptions around bleeding disorders. Supported by research done by the lab team, Dr. James and her team have designed a Self-Administered Bleeding Assessment Tool (Self-BAT), a simple online questionnaire used to determine one’s “bleeding score”. The “bleeding score” then advises whether or not to visit one’s family doctor with concerns of abnormal bleeding.
The team also recently launched a High School Outreach Program, reaching out to local Grade 9 Girls’ Health and Grade 11 Biology classes. Through these workshops, students are learning about bleeding disorders either through a health-oriented perspective or a scientific lens. The goal is to empower youth through education on these issues to allow them to better help themselves, friends, and peers.
“Knowledge Translation” is expanding the reach of research, making it more accessible to the public by putting newly discovered knowledge into practical application. Dr. James’ initiative is one of many projects across the country that strives to educate and empower the people. Research no longer consists solely of lab work – there is increasingly a tangible human element that reminds researchers that their everyday work is changing lives.