Annual Report 2008-2009

Research with Impact

[ Table of Contents ]

Overview and Highlights 2008–09


CIHR is the Government of Canada's agency for health research. Its mandate is to "excel, according to internationally accepted standards of scientific excellence, in the creation of new knowledge and its translation into improved health for Canadians, more effective health services and products and a strengthened Canadian health-care system."

CIHR is composed of 13 Institutes and four central portfolios – research, knowledge translation, corporate affairs and resource planning and management. It provides leadership and support to more than 13,000 researchers and trainees in every province of Canada. Through CIHR, the Government of Canada is supporting health research that addresses society's highest priority health issues and contributes to economic growth and prosperity.

Organizational Highlights 2008–09

Building Canada's people advantage – new research and scholarship programs
Industry Minister Jim Prentice announced the launch of the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program and the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship Program. These two new programs will position Canada as a global centre of excellence in research and education in support of the Government of Canada's Science and Technology Strategy. Both programs are a tri-agency initiative of CIHR, the Social Science and Humanities Research Council and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

Bridging the gap between the lab and the marketplace
In an effort to advance the commercialization of research knowledge, CIHR has formed a Commercialization Advisory Committee. The committee will provide CIHR senior management with high-level strategic advice on ways to facilitate commercialization. The committee will also review results of the funding opportunities launched in response to the 2005 CIHR Commercialization and Innovation Strategy and offer its view on whether we are achieving our objectives in the area of commercialization and how CIHR might improve its commercialization programs.

Canada-France agreement on Alzheimer's disease
Health research funding organizations from Quebec (the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec, FRSQ), France (the Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale, Inserm) and Canada (CIHR's Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction and Institute of Aging) signed a co-operation agreement on Alzheimer's disease research. CIHR President Dr. Alain Beaudet represented the organization at the event held at the Institut national de recherche scientifique (INRS-Santé) in Laval.

Cancer Stem Cell Consortium
Former Health Minister Tony Clement announced that Canada would contribute more than $100 million to the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium (CSCC), which will work with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The announcement was made at the BIO 2008 International Convention in San Diego, California, by Minister Clement, Dr. Alan Trounson, CIRM President, Robert N. Klein, Chairman of the Governing Board of CIRM, and Dr. Martin Godbout, CEO of Genome Canada and Chairman of the Board of the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium. CIHR is one of the Canadian partners in the CSCC.

Launch of new public health chairs
Close to $13 million is being invested to fund 14 new Research Chairs active in public health. The Chairs are funded by CIHR's Institute of Population and Public Health and the Public Health Agency of Canada, in partnership with the Centre de recherche en prévention de l'obésité, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec and the ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux du Québec (Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services). The Research Chairs will examine a range of pressing public health issues such as obesity, sexually transmitted diseases among youth, animal transmitted diseases, drug use, health among First Nations and Métis people, mental health in the workplace and the impact of neighbourhoods on our health.

Ensuring research informs policy
On November 21, 2008, CIHR held a workshop to provide key senior staff in the Federal Health Portfolio with an opportunity to build capacity in the area of evidence-based policy and planning and to support the portfolio's efforts to build a Science-Policy Interface (SPI). Some of the topics covered at the workshop included concrete examples of how other governments are working to build capacity for evidence-based policy and planning, the Federal Health Portfolio's efforts to build capacity for evidence-based policy, and key issues, opportunities and challenges that must be addressed as the Portfolio moves forward to strengthen its SPI initiatives.

Multinational research initiative for autism
CIHR's Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction is collaborating with South and Central America on a multinational initiative on autism. This partnership will help leverage expertise and resources to better coordinate research on autism with a common goal of improving diagnosis and treatment across the Americas.

Improving knowledge about the safety and effectiveness of drugs
In July 2008, the Government of Canada announced the new Drug Safety and Effectiveness Network (DSEN). CIHR, along with Health Canada are developing the Network together with stakeholders. The Network will enable more national research on the safety and effectiveness of drugs used by Canadians. DSEN will: link researchers through a new virtual network; help to coordinate a national agenda of research based on priorities identified by decision-makers; fund independent research on the safety and effectiveness of drugs in the marketplace; and assess the risks and benefits of drug products that are on the market.

Partnership on knowledge syntheses on the environment
CIHR, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council have partnered in a funding opportunity to support knowledge syntheses on the environment. The environment is a multi-faceted topic that calls for contributions from across the many disciplines of Canada's research community. This program provides up to $100,000 to support multidisciplinary research initiatives designed to address important scientific and scholarly opportunities and problems related to the environment. Projects will draw on and synthesize existing research results and scholarship to respond to knowledge gaps identified by a variety of stakeholders involved in improving the environment.

New citizen engagement framework
Citizen engagement plays a key role in the knowledge translation process. Over the past fiscal year, CIHR developed and formalized a comprehensive set of guidelines for encouraging greater citizen engagement in decisions and activities involving health research in Canada. The new guidelines will help CIHR tap into citizens' knowledge, experiences, values and priorities. Increased citizen engagement will: enhance accountability and transparency; improve the relevance of research; facilitate the translation of research into practices; and help identify research gaps. The framework will be implemented in 2009–10.

Synapse CIHR Youth Connection brings science to northern kids
CIHR, in partnership with Actua (a non-profit organization devoted to developing interest in science, technology and engineering among Canada's youth), sent a group of science educators and CIHR Synapse mentors called 'The Dream Team' on a tour of northern communities, such as Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk and Iqaluit. The team held week-long summer science camps with innovative and fun hands-on science activities that illustrate how health research is related to everyday life. The camps were part of a special effort to engage Aboriginal youth in health science activities. In February 2009, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq participated in a CIHR Synapse event with school children at Aqsarniit Middle School in Iqaluit.

Preparing for Canada's aging population
The past fiscal year marked the launch of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) a large, national, long-term study of adult development and aging. The study's longitudinal design and extended follow-up of 50,000 men and women aged 45 and older will provide a unique research platform that will accelerate our understanding of the complex interplay among the vast array of determinants of health, from gene-environment interactions to transitions to retirement. It will provide answers to a multitude of research questions and inform decision-makers on health and quality of life in aging. The CLSA was conceived by CIHR's Institute of Aging. Its development was driven by the research community and supported by CIHR and a number of other partners including: Statistics Canada, Health Canada and the Quebec Network for Research on Aging of the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec.

CIHR joins the International Human Microbiome Consortium
CIHR joined forces with research funding agencies in the United States, Europe, Australia, Japan, Korea and China to support the new International Human Microbiome Consortium, a coordinated global effort that will help researchers investigate the role of microbes in human health and disease. Through this effort, researchers around the globe will be able to share data and access funding for research projects. Canada's participation in this effort is being led by CIHR's Institute of Infection and Immunity.

Health Research Milestones 2008–09

CIHR-funded researcher discovers "master switch" for cell death gene
A ground-breaking study led by Dr. Lorrie Kirshenbaum at the St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre in Winnipeg has revealed a "master switch" for a gene that controls cell death in heart and cancer cells. This discovery, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences could revolutionize the treatment of heart disease and cancer.

Improving preterm births: New study sets international standard
A CIHR-funded study led by Dr. Kellie Murphy of Mount Sinai Hospital has found evidence that will change how women at risk of preterm birth are prescribed antenatal corticosteroids (ACS). While it has previously been established that one course of ACS is beneficial for babies at risk of preterm birth, it was unknown until now whether this treatment continues to be effective in multiple courses. The study determined that multiple courses of ACS actually increase the probability the baby will suffer adverse effects such as weighing less and having a smaller head circumference. The findings were published in The Lancet.

Beta-blockers increase the risk of death and stroke
A new CIHR-funded study demonstrates that a beta-blocker given around the time of surgery decreases a patient's risk of a heart attack but increases their risk of major stroke and death. The results of the study led by Drs. P.J. Devereaux at McMaster University and Homer Yang at the University of Ottawa were published in The Lancet.

Screening out cancer cells
Dr. Mick Bhatia and his colleagues at McMaster University have developed a test that can help researchers distinguish cancer-causing stem cells from normal stem cells. This finding, published in Nature Biotechnology, could bring us one step closer to developing safe and effective stem cell therapies.

What makes good stem cells turn bad
Results from a CIHR-funded study conducted at the BC Cancer Agency may have found new ways to identify and shut down stem cells that produce breast tumours. Lead author, Dr. Afshin Raouf, says that these findings will help determine what turns a normal breast stem cell into a cancerous one. These findings could ultimately help to find ways to stop a tumour from growing or returning. The findings were published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Finding clues for nerve cell repair
A CIHR-funded study found a key mechanism involved in normal development of motor nerve cells (motor neurons) – cells that control muscles. This finding is crucial to understanding and treating a range of conditions involving nerve cell loss or damage. The study, conducted by Dr. Stefano Stifani of the Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Boys as likely as girls to be exploited
A CIHR-funded study shows that among British Columbia youth who were street-involved or in custody, more than one in three have been sexually exploited. Contrary to popular stereotypes, the results demonstrate that males were just as likely to be sexually exploited as females. This study was led by Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, associate professor in the School of Nursing at the University of British Columbia.

Drug advertising – powerful lessons for Canada
Direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) has had a powerful impact on prescription drug spending in the United States, according to a study by CIHR-funded researcher Dr. Steve Morgan from the University of British Columbia. U.S. pharmaceutical firms spent US$4.24 billion on DTCA in 2005 – 11 times what they spent in 1995. Over that period, the difference in per capita spending on prescription drugs between Canada – where DTCA that makes product claims is not allowed – and the United States soared from approximately C$31 to $356. The study was published in the inaugural edition of Open Medicine.

Discovery of gut-brain-liver circuit may lead to new diabetes drugs
Researchers at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute have discovered a new signalling pathway between the gut, the brain and the liver which lowers blood sugar when activated. The CIHR-funded study, led by Dr. Tony Lam, may lead to the development of drugs that will lower glucose or blood sugar levels in people who suffer from obesity or diabetes. The study was published in Nature.

Major discovery in HIV research
Dr. Stephen Barr, a CIHR-funded researcher at the University of Alberta, identified a gene that blocks the late-stage AIDS virus from multiplying or spreading. This major discovery represents a significant advancement in the fight against HIV and AIDS. The study was published in the Public Library of Science Pathogens.

Gene discovery may lead to cure for hereditary heart problem
CIHR-funded researchers at Memorial University, led by Drs. Sean Connors and Terry-Lynn Young, discovered a gene that is responsible for a genetic heart condition highly prevalent in Newfoundland and Labrador. Those afflicted with the fatal condition rarely have symptoms. As a result of this discovery, life-saving interventions have already been taken by doctors. The study was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Kraft Dinner comfort not always available to the poor
A CIHR-funded study shows that while Kraft Dinner may be considered a comfort food, low-income Canadians cannot always afford the basic ingredients like milk and butter needed to make it. Led by Dr. Melanie Rock from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary, the study suggests a need to monitor the problem of food insecurity. The results were published in the international journal Agriculture and Human Values.

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