A spark can start great things – whether it’s the flash of inspiration that sends a researcher on the path to a promising discovery or one passionate person who can inspire others to follow their vision for a better future.
Behind every great discovery is a great researcher, and behind every great researcher is a support network that allows creative minds to flourish.
Providing this support – investing in the people who drive BC’s health research innovation – is at the core of MSFHR’s work. Since 2001, MSFHR has been enhancing the national and international competitiveness of BC researchers by funding awards for our most exceptional trainees and emerging scholars.
The influence of these awards is felt in many ways.
For researchers like BC Cancer Agency scientist Dr. Sohrab Shah, MSFHR awards represent an opportunity for career progression that opens doors and builds invaluable connections.*
* 94% of MSFHR-funded scholars remain in BC as health research leaders
With the support of trainee awards he received in 2006 and 2008, Shah was able to take advantage of cutting-edge gene sequencing technology at the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre and forge strong links with world-leading cancer researchers.
“It’s important to have very strong clinical collaboration. As a computer scientist reaching out to the clinical community, it’s not obvious that you would do that,” Shah says. “But because of those connections, we’ve been able to build very strong multi-disciplinary teams.”
Now, backed by a 2011 MSFHR Scholar Award, Shah has become a leader in BC’s cancer genomics community, using computational techniques to understand how cancers evolve over time.
Spinal cord injury researcher Dr. Christopher West has also experienced MSFHR’s benefit to his career progression.
The UK native came to Vancouver to work with the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD), a facility he calls “one of the best research centres for people with spinal cord injury.” However, the end of his post-doctoral fellowship meant facing the possibility of relocation to find a faculty position that would launch his independent research career.
Receiving a 2014 MSFHR/Rick Hansen Institute Partner Scholar Award opened the door to an assistant professor position with UBC’s School of Kinesiology. This will allow him to stay in Vancouver and continue his work at ICORD to understand how exercise can offset heart dysfunction that occurs after spinal cord injury.
“There are very few academic positions available, and by having the Michael Smith award, it allows people like me who were post-docs to move up and become assistant professors. It kind of bridges that gap,” says West.
One of the most direct benefits of being an MSFHR Scholar is the ability to protect time for research.
For clinician scientists like Dr. Linda Li – a health services researcher and physiotherapist – this is the only way to balance the rigors of peer-reviewed research with the demands of a clinical career.*
* New MSFHR Scholar Awards allow for 50% protected time for research for health professionals maintaining a clinical practice.
Li’s 2011 MSFHR Scholar Award has given her financial support to reduce her teaching and administrative load, freeing up valuable time to do research and maintain her clinical practice. This clinical grounding crucially informs her arthritis research, which aims to develop digital media tools and interventions to help patients make better decisions and stay active.
Being connected to the patient experience through clinical practice allows Li to ask the right questions and find the right answers.
In addition to enhancing BC’s overall research capacity, MSFHR also seeks to build capacity across BC.
Fostering research clusters in BC’s distinct health regions is an essential part of supporting a strong research establishment that is attuned to and responsive to the needs of local communities. This is particularly true in historically underserved areas, such as BC’s northern and Indigenous communities.
As the first MSFHR Scholar in northern BC, Dr. Sarah de Leeuw has seen firsthand the benefits of building up regional capacity. Her award is a partnership between MSFHR and the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health.
“It’s a challenge in northern geographies to recruit top calibre researchers and grad students,” de Leeuw says. “If you’re able to say, ‘Come work with a Michael Smith scholar,’ the world really opens up and we can recruit and retain top health researchers and practitioners.”
de Leeuw’s work seeks to understand how humanities and creative arts can help to address health inequities by relating the unique needs of northern and Indigenous communities. Locally informed research such as hers is vital to ensuring British Columbians in all corners of the province have access to the best possible health care.
Imagine forgetting the names and faces of friends and loved ones. What would you do if after a life of rich experiences you remembered nothing? How would it feel to depend on others for the simplest of daily tasks, such as dressing or using the toilet?
This is the reality facing more than 70,000 British Columbians living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease causes brain cells to degenerate and die, leading to the slow erosion of mental faculties and physical abilities. Despite research-driven advances in our understanding of the disease, there remains no cure and treatment options are limited.
750,000 Canadians are living with cognitive impairment, including dementia. 72% of these individuals are female. Alzheimer’s accounts for 64% of dementia cases in Canada.
The economic cost of Alzheimer’s disease in Canada is estimated at $33 billion per year. With the number of Canadians over 65 growing rapidly, this cost is projected to balloon to $293 billion by 2040.
Faced with a rising human and economic toll from Alzheimer’s as our population ages, the BC government has prioritized research that can turn the tide of this terrible disease.
More than 70,000 British Columbians are living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
By taking advantage of our reputation as a trusted convenor, MSFHR has assembled a network of national and provincial organizations that will address a common priority.
In March 2013, the BC government gave MSFHR targeted funds for research into Alzheimer’s disease. MSFHR earmarked $1.5 million to partner on awards offered through Brain Canada’s Multi-Investigator Research Initiative (MIRI) program.
"Research is vital to preventing, treating, and curing this global public health issue."
BC Minister of Health
Seeking to expand the partnership pool further, MSFHR negotiated with provincial partners. Genome BC contributed $1 million for genomics-focused clinical research with direct benefit to patients.
"With our aging population and the burden of dementia on the health care system, this research is of vital importance, with genomics playing a key role in discovery and management of the disease."
—Dr. Alan Winter
President and CEO, Genome BC
The Pacific Alzheimer Research Foundation contributed $1.25 million to research the biological causes of Alzheimer’s and potential therapeutic treatments.
“Striving to use research to make a difference ultimately to persons affected by this insidiously progressive neurodegenerative disorder is imperative and BC researchers can make a difference."
—Dr. Lynn Beattie
President, Pacific Alzheimer Research Foundation
MSFHR approached Brain Canada with a proposal: match BC's investment in Alzheimer's research to double the pool of available funds. They did, bringing the final total to $7.5 million.
"The investment will bring hope to the 750,000 Canadians over the age of 65 who are living with cognitive impairment including dementia, as well as to families and caregivers, who are devoting about 444 million unpaid hours per year."
President and CEO, Brain Canada
The resulting partnership multiplies BC’s initial investment by five times, greatly increasing the scope of what we can achieve in addressing Alzheimer’s disease.
By attracting a total investment of $7.5 million, MSFHR helps to ensure BC’s health research sector is responsive to provincial priorities, greatly increasing the scope of what we can achieve in addressing Alzheimer’s disease. We ensure that new knowledge generated by research can be applied to achieving better health for British Columbians and a more effective health care system.
In November 2014, five teams were awarded research grants as part of this program. They are undertaking exciting research projects ranging from a new early screening tool to the development of new therapies to slow the disease’s progression.