Liisa Holsti, PhD, Reg. OT(BC), MA, BSR

Profile portrait of Liisa Holsti


phone: 604–822–2000 ext. 5200


I completed my Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Medicine in 1985. I was trained in both Physical Therapy (PT) and Occupational Therapy (OT), but when a great OT job opened up at BC Children’s Hospital in the NICU and in the Neonatal Follow-up Program, I took it, working clinically for almost 20 years. During that time, I received my MA specializing in Measurement and Statistics. I then completed my PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies in 2004.

I joined the School of Rehabilitation Sciences, Division of Occupational Therapy (now the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy) as a faculty member in 2005. I also work as a Scientist at the Child and Family Research Institute and an Investigator at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute and BC Women’s Research Institute..

Please check out this 90 second podcast on CALMER Technology.

Outside of work, you can find me spending time with family, gardening, walking, reading mystery novels or watching movies


Preterm infant and animal studies suggest that exposure to pain and other stressors may alter brain development. For example, human infant and animals studies show that a single painful event can induce long term behavioural changes and decrease expression of genes coding for proteins that are protective against neuronal cell death. These alterations may then contribute directly and indirectly to the ways in which the central nervous system processes future painful events and ultimately to the developmental impairments found later in these children.

My research program, the Developmental Care Program, focuses on finding ways to assess and treat effectively pain and stress in preterm infants in the NICU. My long-term objective is aimed at improving the development of preterm infants by minimizing the impact of the NICU environment and painful/stressful procedures on the development of the brain.

I am also working on technology transfer and on improving the neurodevelopment of infants and children following sepsis.


Measurement, Research design, Pediatrics, Pain/Stress

Graduate and Postdoctoral Research Opportunities

Current Research Graduate Students

I currently supervise MSc and PhD students in Rehabilitation Sciences, as well as MOT student projects.

Future Research Graduate Students

I am accepting applications from students interested in research MSc and PhD programs. Visit the Rehabilitation Sciences Research Graduate Programs Website for more information.


Professional Associations

  • Member, Canadian Association of Occupational Therapy (CAOT)
  • Member, College of Occupational Therapists of British Columbia (COTBC)

Select Publications

*link to articles provided when possible*

Behavioural Indicators of Infant Pain Scale – Part One

Behavioural Indicators of Infant Pain Scale – Part Two

Ranger  M, Albert A, MacLean K, Holsti L. Cerebral hemodynamic response to a therapeutic bed for procedural pain management in preterm infants. Pain Reports, 6; e890. 10.1097/PR9.0000000000000890

Hauser S, Suto M, Holsti L, Ranger M, MacLean K.  Designing and evaluating Calmer, a device for simulating maternal skin-to-skin holding for premature infants. CHI ’20: Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems April 2020 Pages 1–15

Holsti L, MacLean KE, Oberlander TF, Synnes A, Brant R. Calmer: A robot for managing acute pain in preterm infants in the NICU. PainReports (Open-Access). 2019;4:e727.

Williams N, MacLean KE, Guan L, Collet JP, Holsti L.  Pilot testing a robot for reducing pain in hospitalized preterm infants. OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health 2019;39(2): 108-115.

Holsti L, MacLean KE, Oberlander TF, Synnes A, Brant R. Calmer: A robot for managing acute pain in preterm infants in the NICU. Pain Reports (Open-Access). 2019;4:e727.

Stokes, R., Holsti, L. (2010). Paediatric occupational therapy: Addressing parental stress with the sense of coherence. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy,77(1), 30-37.

Holsti, L., Grunau, RE. (2010). Considerations for Using Sucrose to Reduce Procedural Pain in Preterm Infants. Pediatrics, 125, 1042-1047

Holsti, L., Grunau, R.E., Oberlander, T.F. and Osiovich, H. (2008). Is it painful or not? Discriminant validity of the Behavioral Indicators of Infant Pain (BIIP) Scale. Clinical Journal of Pain, 24, 83-88.

Arockiasamy, V., Holsti, L., and Albersheim, S.G. (2008). Fathers’ experiences in response to the stress of the neonatal intensive care unit. Pediatrics, 121, e215-e222.

Holsti, L. and Grunau, R.E. (2007). Initial validation of the Behavioral Indicators of Infant Pain (BIIP). Pain, 132, 264-272.