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Meghan Azad, UM researcher in pediatric health sits in an office at a desk next to a computer.

DR. MEGHAN AZAD

UM scientist named to Canada’s Top 40 Under 40

December 7, 2021 — 

Dr. Meghan Azad, an international expert on how children’s experiences in the womb and during infancy shape lifelong health, was recently honoured as one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 for 2021.

The annual awards given by Caldwell, an executive search firm, recognize exceptional achievement by 40 outstanding Canadians under the age of 40. Recipients are assessed on their vision and innovation, leadership, impact and influence, and social responsibility.

“Congratulations to Dr. Azad on earning this national honour,” says Dr. Brian Postl, dean of the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences. “She is prolific, highly influential in her field, and ranks as a scientist of international stature.”    

Azad holds a prestigious Canada Research Chair in the developmental origins of chronic disease. She is an associate professor in the departments of pediatrics and child health, community health sciences, human nutritional sciences and immunology in the Max Rady College of Medicine, as well as a researcher with the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba.

“This award is such an honour,” says Azad. “It’s gratifying to see my research and advocacy around breastfeeding and human milk recognized as an important field. This work involves many colleagues, trainees and research participants. I am grateful to them all and excited about the new projects we have in the pipeline together.”

Azad, who grew up in Winnipeg, completed a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a master’s in epidemiology before earning her PhD in biochemistry and medical genetics at UM in 2010.

She has secured more than $14 million in grant funding and published 112 peer-reviewed papers in high-impact journals such as BMJ, JAMA Pediatrics and Cell Host & Microbe.

Her multidisciplinary research team has expertise in molecular biology, epidemiology, statistics, nutrition and maternal-child health.

Azad is particularly well known for studying the benefits of breast milk and breastfeeding. Her findings show that it may protect against infant obesity, allergies, asthma and more. She co-directs the International Milk Composition (IMic) Consortium, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, involving seven countries and 1,200 mother-infant dyads.

She also co-directs the Manitoba Interdisciplinary Lactation Centre (MILC), where her team studies breast milk and the infant microbiome to understand their roles in child development. She is the co-founder of the international Perinatal Outcomes in the Pandemic (iPOP) Study.

Azad is deputy director of the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study, a national study following 3,500 children from pregnancy through mid-childhood to help predict, prevent and treat chronic diseases. Using samples from the CHILD study, she and her team are exploring how the hormones, sugars and bacteria in breast milk influence infant health and development.

“My current projects focus on maternal nutrition, breastfeeding, human milk composition and the infant microbiome,” she says. “My ultimate goal is to prevent chronic disease and promote healthy growth through evidence-informed interventions during critical periods of early development.”

Azad has acted as a consultant to bodies such as Health Canada and the U.S. National Academies of Sciences on the composition of human milk.

Her many previous honours include a 2020 WXN Canada’s Most Powerful Women Top 100 Award, the 2020 International Milk Genomics Consortium Outstanding Mid-Career Investigator Award and the 2018 International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation Ehrlich-Koldovsky Award.

She was recently elected a member of the Royal Society of Canada, the country’s most esteemed association of scholars, scientists and artists.

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