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From left: Dr. Charity Evans (PhD) is an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition. Dr. Helen Baulch (PhD) is an associate professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability. (Photos: Submitted)

New Researcher Awards: USask honours exceptional MS and water researchers

Dr. Helen Baulch (PhD) and Dr. Charity Evans (PhD) are both also regarded as inspiring teachers and mentors, having both won the Provost’s Outstanding Teacher Award. And while accomplishing all this, both have taken two parental leaves.

“These two emerging research leaders with such bright futures are demonstrating every day through their research and teaching how we can be the university the world needs and are also modelling how we can advance equity, diversity and inclusion,” said Vice-President Research Karen Chad.

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Dr. Helen Baulch (PhD).

Baulch, associate professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability, is described as a “visionary and passionate” global research leader who is “pushing forward the frontiers of aquatic sciences in a bold manner.”

With peer-reviewed grants totalling more than $17 million, Baulch—who holds the USask Centennial Chair in Aquatic Ecosystem Biogeochemistry—has discovered unmonitored toxins in key recreational and drinking water supplies, including some with extremely high toxicity and some with little-known human health effects.

Baulch plays a key role in the success of the USask-led Global Water Futures program, including work she has done on toxic algal blooms in Buffalo Pound, the main drinking water reservoir for southern Saskatchewan. When unusual weather and algal blooms disrupted the water supply to Regina, Baulch’s work played a major role in providing real-time data and forecasts, helping the water utility to understand and manage the problem.

She also looks at how agricultural management practices can reduce nutrient pollution in lakes and rivers by “keeping water on the land” through wetland management and on-farm reservoirs—work that is helping to guide new watershed management approaches in Saskatchewan.

Her groundbreaking work on winter ecology, looking at what happens to aquatic nutrients under ice, is helping to change how scientists view aquatic ecosystems. 

She is highly sought out nationally and internationally for her expertise. For example, she works with leading international modelling groups to investigate long-term implications of nutrient loading on rivers and lakes, including climate change effects. She has also served on a U.K. environment panel reviewing nutrient research proposals for a major national program.

Understanding MS through population-based research

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Dr. Charity Evans (PhD).

With $4.4 million in research grants, Evans, associate professor of pharmacy, has significantly contributed to the understanding of MS disease impacts and management on health care.  

Her expertise is in demand provincially and nationally, as well as for international review committees and presentations.

One of only a few pharmacists doing research on MS in Canada, Evans has done seminal work in determining MS incidence and prevalence in Saskatchewan—research that has fed into both global MS estimates and prevalence estimates in the United States (double what had previously been thought) and has been critically important for guiding government policy and funding decisions. Her work confirmed that Saskatchewan has one of the highest rates of MS in the world.

Evans co-led a $1-million multi-centre study that found that detecting early symptoms, measurable five years before clinical onset, could help diagnose and treat MS.

She led a large, multi-province research project looking at what MS drug adherence means for health utilization and disease outcomes—the first population-based study of its kind.

While MS patients are twice as likely to use health services and the costs are six times as for patients with non-neurological disorders, Evans discovered higher medication adherence among people with MS compared with people who have other chronic diseases such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis, a finding that might underscore the value of the unique support patients receive when prescribed MS drugs.

She also co-led a $1.2-million study on prescription drug safety and effectiveness, and a study on health care utilization in Saskatchewan which found that MS disease-modifying therapies appear to decrease hospitalization rates, a finding helpful to physicians in making treatment decisions.

In a randomized controlled study on the impact of Pilates exercise for people with MS, she found that Pilates is an effective way to help manage the disease, a finding that has led to online classes and generated interest around the world. 

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