Kovalchuk earns CIHR Chair

University of Lethbridge researcher Dr. Olga Kovalchuk is the recipient of a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Chair dedicated to examining the effects occupational radiation exposure has on men and women working in nuclear industries.

Canada is home to one of the highest concentrations of nuclear activity in the world. Nearly 40,000 people work in Canada's nuclear industry, while 800,000 individuals work in nuclear sectors worldwide. The number of females working in these industries has increased over time, making this project much more critical.

The Chair, which falls under CIHR's Gender, Work and Health program, will examine whether men and women are affected differently in nuclear work environments, which includes the nuclear power industry, healthcare and research departments.

Dr. Kovalchuk's work will examine whether females are equally protected in these environments. Established radiation protection guidelines are historically based on how the male's body is affected.

"I will collaborate with researchers in Russia and we will analyze their nuclear industry cohort. The knowledge can be applied in Canada and all over the world," says Kovalchuk, whose work was inspired by her experience as a high school student in the Ukraine in 1986, while living only 600 kilometres from Chernobyl, the site of the worst nuclear accident in history.

This Chair will provide an exciting opportunity to develop an international collaborative network. The network will have research representation from Canada, USA, Russia and key knowledge-users including Defence Research and Development Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Health Canada and the Nuclear Information and Resource (NIRS - USA).

"The Chair will be an initiative that will have a global impact and will position Canada as a global leader in radiation and environmental health research and radiation protection research," says Kovalchuk.

The CIHR award is for $800,000 over five years.

Vice-President (Research) Dr. Dan Weeks says this funding exemplifies the important contribution that U of L researchers are making in improving the quality of life of Canadians.

"This type of research is representative of the impact U of L faculty members continue to make for the benefit of Canadians. Dr. Kovalchuk's work will benefit tremendously a segment of the workforce that faces particular risks," says Weeks. "The impact the U of L is making in health related areas grows every year."

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is the Government of Canada's health research investment agency. CIHR's mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to enable its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian health-care system.