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Conference Speakers

Keynote Speaker

Rethinking Estrogen, Yet Again: The Science and Politics of Hormone Therapy in Menopause

Carol Tavris, Ph.D.

Carol Tavris, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and writer. Her latest book, with oncologist Dr. Avrum Bluming, is Estrogen Matters, a critical assessment of the science and politics of taking hormones at menopause. She is also co-author, with Elliot Aronson, of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts (just out in an updated edition). Her other best-known books include Anger: The misunderstood emotion and The Mismeasure of Woman. Carol has given distinguished lectureships, workshops, and keynote addresses to students, clinicians, psychologists, lawyers, physicians, and general audiences around the world, as well as writing articles, op-eds, and book reviews, on a wide array of topics in psychological science, with a focus on gender and feminism. She writes a column, “The Gadfly,” for Skeptic magazine. A Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, she has received numerous awards for her efforts to promote science and skepticism, including an award from the Center for Inquiry’s Independent Investigations Group; an honorary doctorate from Simmons College for her work promoting critical thinking and gender equity; the Bertrand Russell Distinguished Scholar, Foundation for Critical Thinking, Sonoma State; and the Media Achievement Award from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

Special Presentations

Mom On A Mission: Getting the Government to enact a National Perinatal Mental Health Strategy through the Power of Media and Advocacy 

Patricia Tomasi

Patricia Tomasi is a mom on a mission! After writing extensively on perinatal mental health for HuffPost Canada and other publications, Patricia has transitioned from journalist to full time advocate. She has a following of 13,000 on her Maternal Mental Health Matters Facebook Page and 3500 members in her Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Facebook support group. She co-founded the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative along with RN Jaime Charlebois ( and is working to get the federal government to create a national perinatal mental health strategy. Universal screening, access to treatment, and mother and baby units are just some of the components the CPMHC would love see as part of the strategy. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has expressed his full support for a national strategy and the CPMHC is working hard to get all parties on board. The CPMHC has a National Committee comprised of researchers and health care professionals to help in this endeavour. If you would like to join, we would love to have you! Please email us at

Menopause UNSpoken: What is NOT being said when we TALK about menopause
(…and how it’s keeping women from living their healthiest midlife!)

Shirley Weir

Shirley Weir introduces herself as a Menopause Chick. Now 52, her perimenopause journey began more than ten years ago. Sleep deprivation, depression and brain fog led Shirley to her doctor’s office, the book store and “Dr. Google,” but she was left feeling confused, overwhelmed and alone. At 46, she launched onto the world stage to empower women to talk openly about perimenopause and menopause, to navigate midlife health information and to connect to women’s health professionals.

Since that time, Shirley spoke at TEDxGastownWomen, Pecha Kucha, received a YWCA Vancouver Woman of Distinction Award and Menopause Chicks has been featured on The Today Show, CBC The National, Toronto Star, and OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). In April 2016, Shirley hosted the first-ever online menopause party celebrating her own menopause milestone. She and rock star, Bif Naked, discussed learning to love menopause, while women tuned in to share their stories in a private online community. In 2018, her first book, MOKITA: How to navigate perimenopause with confidence & ease reached #1 on in women’s health. Mokita means “the truth we all know but choose not to speak of.”

That private online community includes 17,000 women and fields over 30,000 questions and comments every month. Members regard the group as unbiased, trustworthy and the “go-to” place to get their questions answered and to affirm they are not alone.

Shirley’s marketing & communications career spans 30 years, she holds a certificate in Peer Counselling from the University of British Columbia, and she is mom to two teenagers and one golden doodle.


Women and Traumatic Brain Injury: A Life-course Perspective

Angela Colantonio, Ph.D., OT Reg. (Ont.), FCAHS, FACRM:

Dr. Angela Colantonio is the Director of the University of Toronto’s Rehabilitation Sciences Institute, and a Professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy where she held a CIHR Research Chair in Gender Work and Health. She is also a Senior Research Scientist at the KITE/Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-University Health Network. She is affiliated with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and is an Adjunct Scientist at ICES. Dr. Colantonio heads an internationally recognized research program on acquired brain injury, which focuses on women, sex and gender, return-to-work, violence, and marginalized populations ( She has authored over 270 publications and has presented to over 500 research, clinical and lay audiences. She is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine and the American College of Epidemiology. She received the 2015 Robert L. Moody Prize for Distinguished Initiatives in Brain Injury Research and Rehabilitation and a Distinguished Member and Women and Rehabilitation Science Award from the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine.

Mood Disorders and Reproductive Live Events: Translating Research into Clinical Practice

Benicio N. Frey, M.D., M.Sc., Ph.D.

Dr. Frey is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University; Medical Director of the Women’s Health Concerns Clinic at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton; and Academic Head of the Mood Disorders Program, McMaster University.

His research is primarily focused on understanding the neurobiology of mood disorders, with an emphasis on women’s mental health. He has more than 170 publications accepted in peer-reviewed journals and has presented his work in numerous national and international conferences. In addition, he currently supervises medical students, residents and graduate and undergraduate students in various research projects.

Moving Ahead: Supporting Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence and Traumatic Brain Injury

Karen Mason

Karen Mason is Co-founder and Director of Community Practice for SOAR (Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury through Research) – https://www. - and former Executive Director of Kelowna Women’ Shelter in British Columbia. Kelowna Women’s Shelter provides emergency and transitional housing, supported second stage housing, counselling support, advocacy, and prevention education to women, and women with children who have experienced gender-based violence. In collaboration with the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, the Shelter is engaged in the community-based SOAR research project to better understand the intersection of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and intimate partner violence (IPV).

Moving Ahead: Supporting Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence and Traumatic Brain Injury

Paul van Donkelaar, Ph.D. 

Dr. Paul van Donkelaar is Co-founder and Principal Investigator for SOAR (Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury through Research) - - and a Professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus in Kelowna, British Columbia. His research focusses on the basic mechanisms of sensorimotor control and the cerebrovascular, neurocognitive, and sensorimotor aspects of brain dysfunction resulting from traumatic brain injury (TBI). Since 2016, he has been working to understand brain dysfunction in women who have experienced intimate partner violence-related TBI in collaboration with Kelowna Women’s Shelter through the SOAR Project.

Impact of Pregnancy Complications on Maternal Cardiovascular Health

Sandra T. Davidge, Ph.D., FCAHS

Dr. Sandy Davidge received her Ph.D. from the University of Vermont and completed her postdoctoral fellowship training at the Magee Women's Research Institute in Pittsburgh. Dr. Davidge moved to Edmonton, Alberta in 1996 where she is currently the Executive Director of the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute and a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Alberta. She holds a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Maternal and Perinatal Cardiovascular Health and a Fellow in the Canadian Academy of Health Science. Dr. Davidge serves on many national and international grant panels and is currently on the editorial board for the Hypertension, American Journal of Physiology and Biology of Sex Differences as well as being the Board Chair for the national Maternal, Infant, Child, Youth Research Network (MICYRN). Dr. Davidge’s research program encompasses studying cardiovascular function as it relates to 1) complications in pregnancy (preeclampsia and maternal aging) and 2) developmental origins of adult cardiovascular disease. With her team of trainees, for whom she has mentored >40 national and international graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, Dr. Davidge has published over 250 original peer-reviewed manuscripts and review articles in these areas. She is currently funded by the CIHR Foundation Scheme Program

Impact of Sex Steroid Hormones on the Heart

Susan Howlett, Ph.D.

Dr. Susan Howlett is a Professor of Pharmacology and Geriatric Medicine at Dalhousie University.  Originally from Montreal, she completed her Ph.D. at Memorial and Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Alberta, before moving to Dalhousie in 1989.  Continuously funded by CHIR and its predecessor the MRC throughout her career, Dr. Howlett is well known for work on male-female differences in cardiac contraction across the life course.  A leader in the exploration of calcium homeostasis in heart cells, Dr. Howlett has discovered profound differences in the way that male and female heart cells function and is exploring how this is modified by sex hormones in late life. She has pioneered the measurement of frailty in animal models by developing a novel “frailty index” tool that is now used in laboratories around the world.  Her recent work shows that maladaptive age-related changes in the heart are sex-specific and are closely related to overall health (frailty).  These breakthroughs are helping transform laboratory discoveries into new clinical treatments and may lead to the discovery of sex-specific treatments for heart disease in older adults.  An enthusiastic mentor of young scientists, especially women, she regularly volunteers to speak, serve on committees and organize events directed at emerging scientists. 

Long-term Implications of Pregnancy on Brain Health

Liisa Galea, Ph.D.

Dr. Liisa Galea is a Professor in Psychology and Director of the Graduate Program in Neuroscience at UBC and is a Scientific Advisor at Women’s Health Research Institute. The main goal of her research is to improve brain health for women and men by examining the influence of sex and sex hormones on normal and diseased brain states such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Galea is a Distinguished University Scholar and holds numerous scientific awards and a community engagement award (Vancouver YWCA Women of Distinction award). She is the lead for UBC’s Women’s Health Research Cluster with over 100 members. She has given over 60 international speaking engagements, including keynotes. Liisa sits on the advisory board of Institute of Gender and Health at Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR). She was recognized as a Fellow at International Behavioral Neuroscience Society (IBNS) and the Kavli Foundation. She has over 150 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals and has over 10000 citations. Dr. Galea is the chief editor of FiN (Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology) the #2 Endocrinology journal. Dr. Galea has served on international scientific panels for National Institute of Health (US), Wellcome Trust (UK), CIHR, and NSERC. She serves committees/boards for Institute of Mental Health (UBC), Steroids and Nervous System (Italy), Sex and Gender (Canada), and Women’s Brain Project (Swiss).

Not Your Mother’s Menopause: What You Can Do to Promote Mid-Life Health

C. Neill Epperson, M.D.

C. Neill Epperson, MD, is the Robert Freedman Endowed Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine-Anschutz Medical Campus (CU-AMC). Before being recruited to CU-AMC, Dr. Epperson served as the founder and director of both the Penn Center for Women’s Behavioral Wellness and Penn PROMOTES, Research on Sex and Gender in Health at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where she was a tenured Professor of Psychiatry, with a secondary appointment in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Epperson received her medical degree at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and completed her postdoctoral and research training in psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, where she rose to the level of associate professor before her recruitment to the University of Pennsylvania. 

Dr. Epperson is internationally known for her unique lifespan approach to women’s reproductive and behavioral health in both her clinical and research approaches. Her work related to early life stress and its impact on risk for affective disorders during periods of hormonal change, as well as projects relating to cognitive decline during menopause and sex differences among smokers have been funded by the National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Mental Health, the Office of Research on Women’s Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Her body of work has led to a greater appreciation of the impact of childhood adversity on physiologic responses during times of hormonal fluctuation as well as gonadal steroid effects on brain and behavior. Dr. Epperson’s research has been consistently funded by the National Institutes of Health for more than 2 decades. She is a productive mentor and independent investigator with more than 200 peer-reviewed publications and presentations.

Functional Reorganization of Brain Networks across the Human Menstrual Cycle

Emily Jacobs, Ph.D.

Dr. Emily received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and her B.A. from Smith College. Prior to moving to UCSB in 2016, she was an Instructor at Harvard Medical School. She is the recipient of a 2018 Brain and Behavior Young Investigator Award, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar Award, a K12 NIH Career Development Award, and in 2017 she was named a National Academy of Sciences Frontiers of Science Fellow for “distinguished young scientists under 45.” In addition to her research, Dr. Jacobs Lab advocates for diversity in science at the national and international level. Her lab regularly partners with K-12 groups throughout the central coast to advance girls' representation in STEM, work that was featured in the book “STEMinists: The Lifework of 12 Women Scientists and Engineers”.

The Many Menopauses and Oophorectomy in Middle-aged women: Are the Changes Early Brain Aging?

Gillian Einstein, Ph.D.

Gillian Einstein, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Wilfred and Joyce Posluns Chair in Women's Brain Health and Aging, University of Toronto

Mental Health across the Perinatal Period starting Preconception

Cindy Lee Dennis, Ph.D., FCAHS

Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis is a Professor in Nursing and Medicine, Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. She also holds the Women’s Health Research Chair at Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael’s Hospital. She is currently the principal investigator of seven large, multi-site studies and is a co-investigator on twenty-four other research projects concerning maternal, paternal, and infant health outcomes with a focus on perinatal mental health. She holds over $23 million in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) as a principal investigator and has over 200 peer-review publications of which she is the lead author of eight Cochrane systematic reviews. Dr. Dennis has worked with the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, the Provincial Council for Maternal and Child Health and Public Health Ontario to influence policy and improve the care provided to women and their families across the perinatal period.

Mood Disorders during Reproductive Transitions: Circuit and Cellular Substrates of Risk

Shau-Ming Wei, M.D.

Dr. Wei's research focuses on defining the neuroregulatory effects of ovarian steroids in women and characterizing the impact of contextual variables (e.g. genes, early life stress) that modulate the effects of these steroids on brain function. I have completed studies informed by basic science findings that document the regulatory effect of estradiol on genes relevant to brain function. I utilized multimodal neuroimaging platforms (PET, sMRI, and fMRI) to explore brain regions targeted by sex steroids during experimental hormone manipulation studies in healthy women and women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). In these studies, I demonstrate for the first-time the modulatory capacity of common, physiologically-relevant variants in several sex steroid-regulated genes on the actions of ovarian steroids in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex in healthy women. In addition, I explore the role of ovarian steroids in women with reproductive endocrine-related mood disorders. I have identified a possible neuro-anatomical target of ovarian steroids in women with PMDD within the subgenual cingulate that is differentially modulated by ovarian steroids in women with this condition. Finally, to further elaborate potential substrates of risk for ovarian steroid-induced behaviors, I am developing a new initiative using multimodal brain imaging to study the effects of ovarian hormones on dopaminergic function in postpartum psychosis.

Hormonal Influences on Alzheimer’s Disease Risk in Women

Kejal Kantarci, M.D., M.S.

Dr. Kejal Kantarci is a Consultant and Professor of Radiology at the Division of Neuroradiology Mayo Clinic Rochester. She is the Director of the Neuroimaging Core of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center; Associate Director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCaTS) KL2 Program; and Research Director of the Building Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCWH) KL2 Program. Her research focuses on the neuroimaging, neuroscience and clinical aspects of aging and dementia, and is integrated with two NIH-funded multidisciplinary centers at the Mayo Clinic: Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC) and Specialized Center of Research on Sex Differences (SCORE). Dr. Kantarci is a founding member of the Society of Women's Health Research Alzheimer 's Disease Network and member of the Dementia with Lewy Bodies Scientific Advisory Council.  Currently, she is leading an NIH-funded multi-center program on determining the long term effects of early menopausal hormone therapy on Alzheimer’s pathophysiology. She received the de Leon Prize in Neuroimaging Senior Scientist Award from the Alzheimer’s Association in 2018 and was the Chair of the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in 2019.She has authored over 200 peer-reviewed publications in the field of neuroimaging in aging and dementia.

Hormone-induced Adaptations in Body Weight during Pregnancy: Short-term and Long-term Implications

Sharon Ladyman, Ph.D.

Dr. Sharon Ladyman is a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Neuroendocrinology at the University of Otago, New Zealand. She completed her Ph.D. at the University of Otago then worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, and at Concordia University, Montreal, before returning to New Zealand. She now has a senior position in Prof. Dave Grattan’s laboratory group which focuses on hormone-induced adaptations of the maternal brain. Her area of expertise is the neuroendocrine regulation of body weight, appetite and glucose homeostasis during pregnancy. Her work focuses on the mechanisms underlying the altered hypothalamic response to satiety hormones during pregnancy that are associated with increased hyperphagia and decreased voluntary physical activity. Since having children, she has also become very interested in the long-term impact of pregnancy and lactation on maternal body weight, appetite and physical activity. Her favourite hormone is leptin but her current research can’t seem to escape from the hormone prolactin.

Brains in transition: How Sex Hormones and Body fat shape the Journey

Julia Sacher, M.D, Ph.D.

Julia Sacher, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences

The journey to equity in women’s heart and brain research funding: A funder’s perspective

Anne Simard, Chief Mission, and Research Officer, Heart and Stroke Foundation

Anne serves as Heart & Stroke’s Chief Mission and Research Officer, overseeing efforts to achieve the three pillars of our Mission: Promote health. Save lives. Enhance recovery. Anne provides leadership to the cardiovascular and cerebrovascular research program – including project grants, personnel awards and a range of strategic research competitions. She also oversees health systems change efforts, the development of the Canadian Stroke Best Practices Recommendations, policy and advocacy efforts on key health issues like vaping, pharmacare, healthy eating, and initiatives to support the optimal health of those living with heart conditions or affected by stroke and vascular cognitive impairment. 

Further to graduating with a Bachelor of Journalism from Carleton University, Anne began her career as a producer and writer-broadcaster for CBC Radio. She also obtained a Certificate in Women's Studies from Concordia University and a Master’s of Health Science from the University of Toronto. She has also completed specialized training in epidemiology and data science.

In the decade prior to joining Heart & Stroke, Anne held successively more complex leadership roles at Public Health Ontario, the provincial scientific and technical agency created in the wake of the SARS tragedy. In her last role at PHO, Anne was Chief, Knowledge Services, overseeing a team that provides centralized services for knowledge generation and translation, as well as for public health informatics.