The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research harnesses the power of health research for the benefit of all British Columbians. Learn how

Browse current funding opportunities and learn how to apply

Read our monthly newsletter for the latest MSFHR updates

Learn about current MSFHR programs and projects


// October 16, 2014

By pointing the way to better diagnosis and treatment – and hopefully an eventual cure – research is vitally important to improving the lives of the more than 40,000 British Columbians living with schizophrenia.

“The only way schizophrenia is going to be ‘beat’ – if you will – in the long term is through more understanding, ranging from basic chemistry up to helping people cope in their day-to-day life,” says Gerhart Pahl, chair of the BC Schizophrenia Society Foundation*.

“We believe heavily in research, and for those of us who have the illness in our family, we are looking to research to someday beat this disease.”

Funding research is one of four areas of focus for the society and its foundation – along with education, advocacy, and support for families. This investment in research, which makes important contributions to the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of schizophrenia, is supported in part through a strategic partnership with MSFHR.

Since 2013, the two organizations have jointly funded three BC researchers whose work is helping to reveal the underlying mechanisms of schizophrenia and enhance the treatment of this devastating illness. The shared goal is ultimately to mitigate schizophrenia’s human and economic toll.

University of Victoria neuroscientist Dr. Leigh Anne Swayne, a 2014 MSFHR Scholar, is the latest beneficiary of this partnership.

Swayne’s research is focused on two main areas. The first is the role that complex proteins called ion channels play in brain development, injury, and repair. The second is how these same ion channels transmit the electrical signals that underlie the beating of the heart and how mutations in the proteins in the ion channel can lead to certain heart conditions.

“Increasing our understanding of the roles of ion channels in the developing brain might give us further insights into neuro-developmental diseases such as schizophrenia and autism,” Swayne says.

“I’m very excited about this award, most importantly the positive impact it will have on my research program.”

“We essentially double what we can do”

For the BC Schizophrenia Society and its supporting foundation, the partnership helps stretch donor contributions even further through the availability of matching funds.

“If there was a project that needed a hundred thousand dollars, we would have to come up with a hundred thousand dollars,” says Pahl. “But now, with our relationship, we would perhaps pay fifty thousand dollars, and the Michael Smith Foundation would fund the other fifty.

“We essentially double what we can do, so this is a very enticing and important part for us.”

Pahl also notes that partnering with MSFHR allows the society to support research without having to organize a peer-reviewed competition and coordinate award administration, both of which can be nearly impossible for small organizations with limited resources to conduct effectively.

“We don’t have this expertise and capability, but we still wish to continue funding research. It is important to us,” Pahl says. He adds that the partnership with MSFHR, which provides this expertise, provides assurance that these critical components of the research funding process will be carried out in a thorough and professional manner.

The BC Schizophrenia Society was founded in 1982 by families and friends of people with schizophrenia. Since then, the society has grown into a province-wide family support system with 24 branches and more than 2,800 members.

In addition to supporting research through partnership with MSFHR, the society has also raised the funds to endow the schizophrenia research chair at UBC.

Related links

* Note: The BC Schizophrenia Society Foundation raises funds for schizophrenia-related research and the programs and services offered by the BC Schizophrenia Society.

// October 16, 2014

Blog post by Sherel Loo; video by Chelsea Noel

This summer marked MSFHR’s fifth consecutive year of supporting Shad Valley’s annual enrichment program, designed for students in grades 10, 11, and 12 with an interest in science, technology, engineering, math and entrepreneurship.

Students who are accepted into the program spend four weeks living on campus at one of 12 leading Canadian universities. During that time, they participate in workshops and lectures that are academically stimulating, as well as team-building exercises and recreational activities to ensure a balanced experience. In short, it’s a fantastic combination of hard work and play.

Not just anyone can participate in the program. A typical student demonstrates high academic achievement, exceptional drive, initiative, creativity, and entrepreneurial flair.

For the second time, I had the pleasure of attending UBC’s open house in July. The open house is held on the last day of the Shad program and includes a project showcase, luncheon, and variety show. Students were tasked with designing a new product or service in line with this year’s theme: "Living Large with a Small Footprint".

Shad students were asked to consider how changing values and dwindling resources are changing what "the good life" looks like. Their creative projects were showcased on this day to their peers, visiting parents and friends, and supporters of Shad.

While most students return home to enjoy the rest of summer, a select few get the additional opportunity to complete an internship. This year, my colleagues Rashmita Salvi and Michelle Ng paired Amy Han and Robyn Lee with two MSFHR Scholars.

Upon getting to know Robyn and Amy, I quickly saw the value of these internships. Both students were exposed to new experiences outside classroom walls, and it was clear they were intrigued by health research. A seed has been planted in these bright, young students, and they may eventually pursue a career in science or health research.

Below is a brief summary of their internship experiences.

Amy Han

Amy HanHigh school: West Vancouver Secondary School
Internship supervisor: Dr. Amori Mikami, Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia

Amy was thrilled when she learned about her internship. Having gone through what she considered a transformational experience at Shad Waterloo, she was keen to continue that momentum. Amy always had an interest in the human mind and mental health, so this internship was a good fit. She was also hoping to get exposure on how research is done in a university lab setting.

Amori’s current study involves helping parents of children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) make friends. Children with ADHD have a particularly challenging time making good, close friendships. Because the interactions between Amori and her participants (parents, kids and teachers) happen during the school year, the summer months are spent processing the data. Amy was therefore instrumental in helping Amori process the data collected from the first cohort of families. This included observing and recording the parents’ behaviours towards their kids, their interactions with each other, what the kids said about themselves, and what their teachers said about them.

Because this is a new study, Amy had an opportunity to provide input on how best to capture and categorize the data. The summarized results then helped illustrate similarities and differences between parents and their kids, giving Amori’s team a better understanding of the data.

This internship exceeded Amy’s expectations. She saw firsthand how much data can be required for a research study, how the data is processed, and what programs and methods are used. She also got the chance to experience everything behind-the-scenes and gained insights into what a health research career could look like — something you don’t get a flavour of in a high school classroom setting.

“I've never seen kids with ADHD firsthand, so it was really eye-opening being able to watch them interact with their parents. I would then code their behaviours, tones, and approaches accordingly. What I found even more interesting was seeing parents teach their kids strategies on how to make friends as well as how to maintain those relationships."

>> Amy Han

Robyn Lee

Robyn LeeHigh school: Burnaby Mountain Secondary School
Internship supervisor: Dr. Jodi Viljoen, Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University

Lab coats and pipettes. That’s what came to Robyn’s mind when she found out she landed an internship in a health research lab. Little did she know, her time with Jodi would be far from that.

During her stint in Jodi’s lab, Robyn was exposed to many new things. For starters, Jodi introduced her to the clinical tools and measures her team uses in their research to examine mental disorders in adolescents and health-related outcomes such as violence, victimization and self-harm. While these tools typically take Jodi’s undergrads a couple of months to learn, she was impressed with Robyn’s ability to grasp key concepts in one day. As part of the practical component, Robyn used these tools to perform some of the mental health screening inventories — a comprehensive measure of mental health and personality, a violence risk assessment tool for adolescents, and an adolescent treatment guide.

In addition to learning the clinical tools and measures, and developing research questions, Robyn job shadowed Jodi and her grad students, giving her the opportunity to learn more about research methodology, data analysis, and what drew the various team members to health research. Robyn prepared a conference poster based on some of her data analysis and returned to SFU last month to present the results of her project to the team.

“As part of Robyn’s mini research project, I had her develop her own research questions. I was particularly impressed with her ideas because she was able to provide an adolescent lens to our research. I thought this was a good way to expose Robyn to our research and to teach her what research methodology in health sciences is all about.”

>> Jodi Viljoen

// October 15, 2014

A new report examines the implementation of clinical care management (CCM) guidelines as a case study for understanding how to achieve large-scale change within British Columbia’s health system.

Clinical care management is an area of focus in the BC Ministry of Health’s Innovation and Change Agenda. Its goal is to implement a guideline-driven, evidence-informed system that will improve the quality, safety, and consistency of key clinical services and improve patient experiences of care.

To date, 11 clinical care areas have been identified for guideline implementation in BC; however, the approach to implementation varies within each health authority, depending on the local context.

The report outlines factors that help or hinder province-wide implementation of CCM guidelines in different contexts. It is informed by focus group sessions and interviews with CCM implementation experience, including clinicians, administrators, senior executives, and board members from every health authority in the province.

Initial findings of these sessions were validated through an online survey distributed to individuals with CCM implementation experience.

Based on this consultation process, two sets of recommendations were developed. The first provides action-oriented strategies for improving the success of future CCM initiatives. The second outlines a series of six broad guidelines and supporting strategies for managing large-scale transformation within BC’s health system.

The study was conducted by InSource Research Group following a competitive call for applications facilitated by MSFHR. Funding was provided by the BC Patient Safety & Quality Council and administered by MSFHR.

> Download the report (PDF)

// October 9, 2014

More than ever, health researchers are being called upon to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care. In an era of constrained resources and increasingly complex problems, it is important that research efforts be coordinated for maximum impact in addressing the challenges facing our health system.

Over the past two years, a concerted effort has been underway to develop a provincial strategy that will support greater coherence and a common understanding of priorities among BC’s health research community.

A new summary document published this month — Directions for Health Research in BC — represents the culmination of the first stage of this process.

The document provides insight into BC’s health research landscape and sets out a vision, strategic directions, and actions that are vital to establishing a strong, coherent, and effective research enterprise. It aims to create a road map for building on BC’s accomplishments over the past decade while anticipating changes to the evolving health and research landscapes.

The document outlines three strategic directions for health research in BC:

  • develop and enhance key foundations that support the creation and use of knowledge;
  • create a culture of inquiry and innovation across sectors that encourages health research and its use; and
  • make BC a hub for world-class research that makes a difference.

These strategies and their supporting actions will reduce unnecessary duplication of services, encourage collaboration between researchers, patients, health providers, and decision-makers, and enhance BC’s ability to attract investments in health research.

From strategy to action

Progress has been made on several initiatives that will advance actions outlined in the strategy document.

In June, the provincial government announced that it is working on a data resource centre that will pull from the many existing government data sources to serve as an invaluable tool for health researchers. This centre supports one of the document’s main actions, focused on creating a common data platform for BC.

In July, BC’s business case for a provincial support unit under CIHR’s Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research was submitted for approval. Once established, the support unit will be a driver of several of the actions outlined in the provincial health research strategy.

Currently, the BC Ethics Harmonization Initiative is proceeding with plans for a harmonized ethics review model that will support elements of the strategy. Work is also underway within the BC Ministry of Health to develop an academic health sciences network that will bring research closer to patient care.

Creating the road map

The process of developing a provincial health research strategy began in April 2012 with a meeting of BC’s health research and health care leaders. At this meeting, MSFHR was endorsed to consult with the community and facilitate the strategy’s development.

A planning team led by MSFHR undertook extensive environmental scanning, supplemented by a consultation process that included regional workshops, key informant interviews, focus sessions, and an online survey.

Throughout the project, an advisory board of senior health system and health research leaders provided advice and direction to the planning team.

To learn more about the consultation process and the strategy’s evolution, visit www.bchealthresearchstrategy.ca

> Download "Directions for Health Research in BC"

// October 1, 2014

MSFHR and Genome BC are partnering to bring the highly regarded Scientist Knowledge Translation Training (SKTT™) workshop back to Vancouver.

The two-day course, scheduled for November 6 and 7, is open to individuals who have received a 2014 MSFHR Scholar Award or are part of a research project funded by Genome BC. Participants will develop the skills required to create a knowledge translation (KT) plan that can help generate research impact, promote the use of research results, and ensure that research findings reach the appropriate audiences.

The workshop is an important part of MSFHR’s commitment to enhancing the KT skills of its funded researchers.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the Foundation, as it represents the first time we’ve offered knowledge translation training specifically for our Scholar Award recipients,” said Gayle Scarrow, MSFHR’s knowledge translation manager. “Helping our researchers build these skills will increase both the potential impact of their work and KT capacity in the province.”

There is growing recognition that dedicated resources and expertise are needed to increase the use of health research evidence in practice and policy. In response, research funders and the users of research evidence are placing greater emphasis on helping researchers develop the skills and networks required for effective knowledge translation.

The Scientist Knowledge Translation Training (SKTT™) Workshop is led by Drs. Melanie Barwick and Donna Lockett of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. The course was initially developed to help SickKids scientists develop their knowledge translation skills, but is equally suited to other practitioners, educators, and decision-makers in community-based organizations and government. Learn more about the course and its instructors.

// September 30, 2014
New MSFHR board members Suromitra Sanatani (left) and Joan Young (right).

The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research is pleased to announce the appointment of Suromitra Sanatani and Joan Young to its board of directors.

The incoming directors bring with them a wealth of experience from across the health, business, and government sectors.

Sanatani is current Chair of the Royal BC Museum and a director with Canadian Blood Services and the Victoria Airport Authority. She has previously served on the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the federal Advisory Panel on Responsible Conduct of Research, and the Pacific Parkinson’s Research Institute board of directors. Sanatani also played a pivotal role in establishing Partnerships BC and served as Vice-President, Corporate and Government Relations for this crown corporation specializing in public-private partnerships.

Young is a partner and senior litigator at McMillan, LLP, one of Canada’s largest law firms. As a former Legal Advisor to the Office of the Premier and Special Assistant to the Attorney General, she has significant public sector experience serving on both the policy and legal sides of the Ministry of Attorney General for eight years. Young previously held appointments as a director of the Victoria Airport Authority, the Food Innovation Centre of BC, and the Vancouver Island Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The new directors’ appointments were approved by the MSFHR board at its September 26 annual general meeting.

The meeting also marked the retirement of Dr. Martin Taylor from the MSFHR board of directors. Over the course of nine years, Taylor served terms as chair, vice-chair, and past-chair, in addition to chairing the board’s finance committee and nominating and governance committee. His considerable efforts have made a lasting impact on MSFHR, and the Foundation thanks him for his many contributions.

// September 26, 2014

Bev Holmes, MSFHR’s Vice-President, Research & Impact, was one of the speakers at the fifth annual InspireNet conference, Connect 2014, held in Vancouver on Sept. 22. The theme of this year’s conference was "Using Research to Improve Health Care - Change, Challenge and Opportunity in Knowledge Translation (KT)".

InspireNet is an MSFHR-funded network of over 3,300 researchers, practitioners, policy-makers, educators and students working together to improve health services in British Columbia, Canada.

Organizers of this year’s InspireNet conference posed a challenging question to the closing panel as my colleagues and I wrapped up the day’s events on September 22.

With researchers Drs. Sharon Straus (Professor, University of Toronto Department of Medicine) and Anne Sales (Professor, University of Michigan School of Nursing), I was asked to reflect on:

  • How can we improve integrated and end-of-grant knowledge translation (KT) in health care?

The question is challenging for a couple of reasons: first, there’s almost no end of answers. And second, it sounds straightforward, but it’s not. From the perspective of a funder, I spoke about what this question raised for me…which was more questions!

Who is the “we” that should be improving KT? The research community? Policy-makers? British Columbians? There doesn’t seem to be enough thinking about who is responsible for what in KT. Even if “we” meant everyone in the audience that day, we all wear many hats: student, care-provider or clinician, patient, members of organizations, and more.

Does everyone have to be good at KT?  Researchers and their health care partners, for all their expertise and experience, are not necessarily the people who should be developing and implementing communications plans, talking to politicians, or taking a product to market. Nor do they have the “levers” that may be needed to change rules and regulations so their findings can be applied.

Many funders emphasize the full continuum of research-to-practice in competitions, but perhaps we’re encouraging simplistic thinking about what it takes to move evidence into practice.

As I thought about these points more, it made me question whether the distinction between end-of-grant and integrated KT always helpful.

Regardless of what KT they’re doing, research teams need to think about engaging their stakeholders audiences from the beginning. A focus on the end-of-grant KT concept may lead to overuse of resources on communications products at the study’s close – not the most strategic way to get a message across and effect change.

At the other end of the spectrum, the concept of integrated KT – working with “knowledge users” throughout the study – makes it sound like implementation is covered. Working with knowledge users makes research more relevant, but it doesn’t guarantee uptake. Perhaps a better approach is to ask “who needs to do what KT, when and how, in order for this project to meet its objectives?"

Finally, should funders be more realistic about the outcomes we expect from researchers?  

Competition for funding leads to claims about how crucial a project is, and what great things it will accomplish – quickly. There’s also pressure to publicize findings widely, usually in isolation of other studies. It’s all but impossible to learn from mistakes when all everyone wants to hear about is success.

By reflecting on these issues more deeply, all of us who are involved in health research can do our part to improve integrated and end-of-grant KT in health care.

// September 17, 2014
Connections >> An MSFHR Update - September 2014

Connections is MSFHR's monthly e-newsletter. Each issue highlights the top MSFHR news from the past month and showcases the impact of research we've funded.

In this issue:



Career Opportunities

B.C. government provides $11 million for health research

Patients and researchers will benefit from a new $11-million grant from the provincial government to the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR).

"This funding will help the Foundation maintain the global competitiveness of B.C.'s health research sector," said Health Minister Terry Lake. "The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research helps support solutions to our more pressing health problems by funding the best and brightest researchers and spearheading significant projects to address health system priorities."

In July, the Foundation awarded 32 leaders in health research with MSFHR Scholar Awards totalling up to $11.2 million over five years. These awards, a flagship program for MSFHR, have a proven impact on health research in B.C. Since 2001, MSFHR Scholars have attracted more than $1.1 billion in additional investments to B.C.'s research community and trained more than 4,700 apprentices.

Back to top

MSFHR partners on $31.5M national dementia research initiative

MSFHR is proud to partner on a new national initiative that will tackle the growing prevalence of dementia and related illnesses, including Alzheimer's disease.

The Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA), announced September 10 by federal health minister Rona Ambrose, brings together 20 research teams and experts from across Canada to focus on preventing and delaying the onset of dementia as well as improving the quality of life for Canadians affected by these illnesses.

The initiative is supported by a national partnership between the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and 13 organizations from the public and private sectors, including MSFHR. Total funding of $31.5 million over five years has been committed by the Government of Canada and the partner organizations.

Back to top

Report highlights best practices in seniors' home care

Evidence-based lessons and objectives for improving B.C. seniors' home care are outlined in a new report that summarizes best practices from around the world.

The report synthesizes findings from an international forum on home care convened in January by MSFHR and the B.C. Ministry of Health. Six international experts were invited to Vancouver to speak about home care practice in their respective countries, offering an important opportunity for BC policy-makers and researchers to learn how other jurisdictions are providing sustainable home care for seniors.

All presentations and subsequent discussions are summarized in the report, which is available for download.

Back to top

New website supports ethics harmonization

A new website that will act as the primary portal for news, resources, and information about the BC Ethics Harmonization Initiative is now available at www.bcethics.ca.

The launch of this website is an important step for BCEHI. It will support public communication about the initiative and provide resources to help researchers, research ethics board administrators, and reviewers understand and implement harmonized approaches to ethics review.

MSFHR is actively working with BCEHI's partner organizations to facilitate the development and implementation of harmonized ethics review models for research involving human subjects. A harmonized ethics review model for minimal-risk studies has been endorsed by the partner organizations' senior leadership for pilot implementation and evaluation over six months, starting in October.

Back to top

MSFHR supports upcoming conferences

MSFHR is pleased to support two events in September that will advance dialogue on health and health research.

  • Connect 2014
    September 22
    Coast Plaza Hotel & Suites, Vancouver

    InspireNet's fifth annual fall conference is focused on the challenges and opportunities in using research to improve health care. All researchers, clinicians, policy-makers, students/trainees, and individuals with an interest in health services research are encouraged to attend. Speakers include MSFHR's Diane Finegood (president & CEO), Bev Holmes (vice-president, research & impact), and Lori Last (director, communications).
  • Interface 2014
    September 29-30
    Vancouver Convention Centre West

    Interface is the only digital health international summit in Canada that brings together health, technology, design, social media, and business. Speakers will include leading experts, innovators, and creative thinkers on the future of health, including MSFHR President & CEO Diane Finegood. Connections readers can save $100 by using the code MSFHR14 before September 26.

Back to top

Career opportunities

Evaluation Lead

MSFHR is seeking an Evaluation Lead (permanent, full-time) to join our Impact Analysis team.

You are passionate about the value and power of evaluation. Reporting to the Director, Impact Analysis, your primary responsibility is to implement the new organizational evaluation strategy.

Deadline: September 28, 2014

Back to top

// September 15, 2014

Patients and researchers will benefit from a new $11-million grant from the provincial government to the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR).

“This funding will help the Foundation maintain the global competitiveness of B.C.'s health research sector,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research helps support solutions to our more pressing health problems by funding the best and brightest researchers and spearheading significant projects to address health system priorities.”

In July, the Foundation awarded 32 highly-ranked leaders in health research with MSFHR Scholar Awards totalling up to $11.2 million over five years. These awards, a flagship program for MSFHR, have a proven impact on health research in B.C.  Since 2001, MSFHR Scholars have attracted more than $1.1 billion in additional investments to B.C.’s research community and trained more than 4,700 apprentices.

“BC researchers and the Foundation appreciate the ongoing support from our provincial government,” said Dr. Diane Finegood, president & CEO of MSFHR. “Our scholars have made discoveries that drive innovation in our health system and improve the health of our populations, allowing them to attract additional funding amounting to ten times MSFHR’s investment of $117 million in their awards over the past decade.”

> Government of B.C. press release

MSFHR-funded researchers and research programs such as scholars and trainees, infrastructure funding and health services and policy research, have had a significant impact on a provincial, national and international scale.

A few examples include:

MSFHR works closely with the provincial government and other key stakeholders to ensure British Columbia remains internationally competitive in health research to help improve the health status of British Columbians.

The province has provided $392 million to MSFHR since 2001.

// September 11, 2014
BC Ethics Harmonization Initiative

A new website that will act as the primary portal for news, resources, and information about the BC Ethics Harmonization Initiative is now available at www.bcethics.ca.

The launch of this website is an important step for BCEHI. It will support public communication about the initiative and provide resources to help researchers, research ethics board administrators, and reviewers understand and implement harmonized approaches to ethics review.

The site will grow and evolve with BCEHI as the initiative moves towards its goal of creating efficient, coordinated, and high-quality processes for multi-jurisdictional human health research. Additional information and resources will be added to the site as they become available.

BCEHI nearing implementation of harmonized review models

MSFHR is actively working with the BCEHI’s partner organizations to facilitate the development and implementation of harmonized ethics review models for research involving human subjects.

An advisory committee representing the partner organizations, the main geographic areas of BC, and key areas of expertise met twice over the summer months with excellent progress. The committee developed a harmonized ethics review model for minimal-risk studies that has been endorsed by the partner organizations’ senior leadership for pilot implementation and evaluation over six months, starting in October.

Advisory committee members will be meeting with research ethics board members and administrators in their respective organizations during September to share and provide orientation to the model prior to implementation.

The means by which the model will be evaluated is integral to this pilot implementation. Evaluation tools are under development and will be finalized prior to implementation of the pilot. The aim is to seek feedback from the stakeholders involved in each harmonized review, including researchers, REB members, and REB administrators, using standard metrics and a post-review survey.

A draft model for the review of above-minimal-risk studies has also been developed by the advisory committee. Refinement of this model is underway and will be followed by a consultation with internal REB members and administrators to gain feedback prior to pilot implementation, which is anticipated later this fall.

The pilot implementation of these models is a key deliverable in achieving harmonized ethics review in BC.

Learn more

> BC Ethics Harmonization Initiative website