Annual Report 2006-2007

[ Table of Contents ]

CIHR: Overview and Highlights of 2006-07

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (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 provides leadership and support to more than 11,000 researchers and trainees across 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.

International Panel of Experts Reviews CIHR's First Five Years
CIHR Makes Strides as an Organization
Engaging Canadians Outside the Research Community
Research Breakthroughs
Realizing the Economic Benefits of Health Research
Measuring Success

International Panel of Experts Reviews CIHR's First Five Years

CIHR's success at achieving its goals over its first five years was assessed by a 27-member International Review Panel. In its report, which was released in June 2006, the panel applauded CIHR for what it has accomplished to date, concluding that CIHR is setting an example to the world and noting that the creation of its 13 Institutes has unleashed a flood of energy and creativity that is benefitting the health of Canadians.

In response to the International Review Panel's report, CIHR has introduced a number of changes:

"The novelty of the inclusive model of health research funding as prosecuted by the CIHR is clear. Through this process, Canada has become an international leader in bringing different components of health research together. ... It is likely that this model will provide important new research outputs relevant to human health ... . This inclusive model may prove to be one of Canada's most important gifts to the international health research community."
CIHR: Year 5 - International Review Panel Report, 2000-2005, pp. 12-13.

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CIHR Makes Strides as an Organization

Throughout 2006-07, CIHR made important strides in many areas, including its international activities, partnership activities and in specific areas of health research. It also developed a Human Resources Strategy to ensure that CIHR, as a workplace, is comparable with Canada's top employers. Over the next three years, CIHR will develop and implement action plans in five areas of human resources to help achieve this objective.


On the international front, CIHR strengthened its presence with the development of its first Framework for International Relations and Cooperation, which provides coherence, guidance and strategic direction for CIHR's international endeavours. CIHR also established the Canada-China Health Research Scholarship Program with the Chinese Ministry of Education to enable Chinese students of high academic merit to pursue PhD research at Canadian universities. The first cohort of 30 Chinese students will arrive in Canada in September 2007. This program complements the China-Canada Joint Health Research Initiative, jointly managed and funded by CIHR and the National Natural Science Foundation of China. This initiative promotes the development of Canadian-Chinese scientific cooperation through the support of collaborative research grants.

In addition, CIHR, together with its partners in the Global Health Research Initiative (the International Development Research Centre, the Canadian International Development Agency and Health Canada), announced the 13 successful teams selected as recipients of the first Teasdale-Corti Global Health Research Partnership Program Team Grants. Each team will receive up to $1.6 million over four years.


Effective health research requires the collective effort of many people and organizations. For this reason, partnerships are at the core of CIHR's work. CIHR works with national and provincial research funding organizations, voluntary health organizations, the private sector and all members of the health research community to deliver its mandate. The importance of these partners goes far beyond money. Partnerships help build capacity for health research within Canada; share knowledge; minimize redundancy and duplication; align the priorities and programs for research among different funders; and set the Canadian health research agenda.

Partners also help ensure that knowledge created by health research is used to improve health and strengthen the health-care system. Recognizing this key role, CIHR, in 2006-07, moved its Partnerships Branch into the Knowledge Translation Portfolio.

CIHR is also in the process of evaluating its Small Health Organization Partnership Program, which was created in 2005 to foster partnership opportunities with small health charities and not-for-profit organizations that have modest health research funding capacity. The program supports training and salary awards for researchers in order to strengthen the organizations' research capacity.

Areas of health research

CIHR also took many strides to advance different areas of health research. It developed the CIHR Guidelines for Health Research Involving Aboriginal People, which were adopted by CIHR's Governing Council in March 2007. The guidelines, which were developed after broad consultation with Aboriginal communities, researchers and institutions, will protect Aboriginal participants in CIHR-funded research and promote health through research that is in keeping with Aboriginal values and traditions.

It also launched the first-ever Request for Applications (RFA) into boys' and men's health. Canadian men have higher rates of 14 of the 15 leading causes of death, including cancers, heart disease, injury and suicide. This RFA is intended to broaden the focus of research into the health of men and boys and to build capacity in this under-researched area.

In another area of growing importance, CIHR awarded 36 grants to researchers focusing on various areas of pandemic preparedness to assist in preparing for a possible influenza outbreak. The projects range from the development of new antiviral medications to the development of public health mechanisms to help contain an outbreak.

Healthy Canadians in a Healthy Environment

Canadians can't be healthy in an unhealthy environment. Polluted air and water contribute to respiratory diseases such as asthma, endanger the safety of our food and drinking water and have been linked to many other diseases and conditions.

Environment and health linkages are being increasingly explored by CIHR-funded researchers.

Bridging health research and engineering

One innovative initiative, the Bridge Program at the University of British Columbia (UBC), is a researcher training program that combines public health, engineering and public policy research. Participants in the program are united by their desire to bridge basic science with engineering to apply their knowledge to everyday human situations. Some current Bridge projects include assessments of compost workers' exposure to airborne hazards; neurological outcomes in children exposed to flame retardants known as PBDEs in utero; and the impact of mining activities on the health of residents of British Columbia mining communities.

Among the studies undertaken through the Bridge Program is the Langley Water and Health Study. Langley, a mixed urban/rural community on the outskirts of Vancouver, has been concerned about depleting its water supply as its population grows. It has been mapping all the different ways in which its residents get their water, from municipal water systems as well as private and municipal wells, and dispose of their sewage, via municipal sewage systems and septic tanks, for example. Now, a team of researchers and trainees, led by Dr. Kay Teschke of the Department of Health Care & Epidemiology and the School of Occupational & Environmental Hygiene at UBC, is using that data to determine how water source and sewage disposal methods are related to rates of gastrointestinal illness among residents.

"The mix of water supply is wonderful to be able to study the influence of water, sewage and land use on gastrointestinal illness," says Dr. Teschke.

Outbreaks of water-borne illness such as the one that occurred in Walkerton, Ontario, in 2000 can usually be traced to a single water source. However, Dr. Teschke's team is more interested in looking at endemic illness, that which exists on an ongoing basis. The results of the study will help public policy makers and engineers prevent future water-borne illnesses.

Air pollution and health

In other environment-related projects, McGill University's Dr. Mark Goldberg has placed "passive monitors" on 130 telephone poles across Montreal to map out the links between neighbourhood and exposure to air pollution. These highly sensitive monitors are measuring levels of nitrogen dioxide, a chemical emitted by vehicles, and volatile organic compounds, which include everything from paints to cleaning fluids to benzene. Eventually, he will be able to determine whether lung and other cancers can be linked to people living in higher-pollution areas.

Another study by Dr. Murray Finkelstein of the Ontario Ministry of Labour and Mount Sinai Hospital, University of Toronto, is looking at the effects of traffic pollution on people in Toronto and Hamilton, including those who are healthy and those with heart, lung and other diseases. His research will supply important information on how to improve the health of Canadians through health and environmental policy intervention.

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Engaging Canadians Outside the Research Community

Helping Canadians understand the importance of their investment in health research is a priority for CIHR, with activities aimed at engaging the general public, youth and the media in innovative ways.

CIHR presented its first-ever Café Scientifiques this year. Café Scientifique is a place where, for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to explore the latest ideas in science and technology. The first Café, held in October 2006 in Ottawa, brought together researchers focusing on our aging brains, our aging bodies and the environments in which we're growing old. A second Café Scientifique, focusing on obesity, was held in March 2007 in conjunction with the Food for Health travelling exhibition, which opened at the Canada Agriculture Museum before embarking on a cross-Canada tour. CIHR is a sponsor of the exhibition.

The Synapse youth outreach program, intended to bring young people together with health researchers, got fully underway in 2006-07 and had a highly successful first year, eliciting a strong response from researchers and youth science organizations across the country. More than 2,000 researchers have registered as Synapse youth mentors, with another 700 expressing interest in the program. The first Synapse Mentorship Awards will be announced in summer 2007. Other highlights of the first year include the appointment of a Youth Outreach Advisory Board and the launch of the Synapse website, with sections for both youth and researchers. Four new flash animations will profile CIHR-supported health research for high-school students.

Twelve funding agreements have been signed with leading youth outreach organizations, including the Science with Impact Workshop and National Tour, the Science and Technology Awareness Network, the Youth Science Foundation - Health Research Division and Actua.

CIHR also worked with media to help Canadians better understand what advances in health research could mean for them. CIHR brought together top researchers throughout Canada to help journalists navigate the complexities of genetics and of health services, two vitally important topics, through two workshops for health and science reporters. The workshops were held in Toronto in September 2006 and March 2007.

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Research Breakthroughs

In 2006-07, CIHR funding resulted in important research breakthroughs. These breakthroughs could, one day, translate into direct improvements in the health of Canadians like those portrayed in the pages of this report. These are some of those discoveries:

Cancer breakthroughs

Cancer is one of the most devastating diseases facing Canadians. More than 38% of Canadian women and 44% of Canadian men will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime, while about a quarter of all Canadians will die of cancer.

Canadian researchers are making important advances in the fight against this dreaded disease. Here are just three research discoveries made during 2006-07.

Getting to the root of cancer cells - A Canadian first
Not all cancer cells are created equal. A Toronto-based research team led by Dr. Peter Dirks of the Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto, had earlier discovered that stem cells in brain cancer are hard to eliminate and just a few of them left behind can trigger more cancer growth. This year, Dr. John Dick of the University Health Network found a way to destroy the stem cells that cause a recurrence of leukemia after chemotherapy. He and his team also were able to identify a colon cancer stem cell that initiates tumour growth. Their discoveries are prompting a radical change in how researchers and clinicians are approaching cancer.

Diabetes and obesity gene presents new hope for breast cancer
A gene known for its role in diabetes and obesity is also present in two out of five women diagnosed with breast cancer, according to research by McGill University's Dr. Michel Tremblay. The gene, PTP1b, plays a central role in the proliferation and metastasis of cancer tumours. Dr. Tremblay's team had earlier shown that suppressing the enzyme produced by the gene could cure type 2 diabetes and obesity. They will now focus on adapting the compounds to attack breast cancer. New drugs could be fast-tracked for clinical trials as early as this fall.

Putting old drugs to new uses in the fight against cancer
A drug that has been used for decades to treat children with inborn errors of metabolism due to mitochondrial diseases (diseases caused by the failure of mitochondria to create the energy needed by cells, leading to cell injury and death) could be an effective treatment for many forms of cancer. Dr. Evangelos Michelakis of the University of Alberta has shown that the drug, called DCA, causes regression in cancers of the lung, breast and brain. The drug is already known to be non-toxic in humans and, because it is not patented or owned by a pharmaceutical company, would be relatively inexpensive to administer. Clinical trials of the drug could start as early as summer 2007.

A possible cure for type 1 diabetes

Malfunctioning nerves may play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes, according to research by Drs. Michael Salter and Hans-Michael Dosch of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. These misbehaving nerve cells produce chemicals that trigger the immune system to destroy the insulin-producing islet cells of the pancreas. By killing the nerves with a chemical derived from chili peppers, the researchers were able to cure diabetes in mice. Drs. Salter and Dosch hope to begin testing the procedure in humans by 2008.

New developments in Alzheimer's disease

Dr. JoAnne McLaurin of the University of Toronto has found that a drug that stops the accumulation of amyloid beta peptide in the brain can halt Alzheimer's disease in mice. The drug has now been approved for the first phase of clinical trials in humans. Meanwhile, in what they term "among the most important scientific discoveries ever made in Canada in dementia research," Drs. Ian Mackenzie and Howard Feldman of the University of British Columbia discovered that mutations in a gene called progranulin cause an inherited form of frontotemporal dementia, the second-most common form of dementia in those under age 65.

Superantigens on the attack

What do flesh-eating disease, food poisoning and toxic shock syndrome have in common? A study by Dr. Joaquín Madrenas at the Robarts Research Institute, University of Western Ontario, has found that all of these diseases, whose onset is extremely rapid, are caused by tiny amounts of bacterial "superantigens", toxins secreted by some bacteria that trigger a massive activation of immune cells throughout the body. This systemic immune response then sets off its own chain of damaging events that can lead to vomiting, fever, organ failure and even death. Dr. Madrenas' research could help to develop drug therapies targeted to these diseases.

Substance abuse costs... all of us

Substance abuse exacts a horrific toll on individuals, but its costs are far greater yet - $39.8 billion, to be exact, which is what Dr. Jürgen Rehm of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health estimates substance abuse costs the Canadian economy each year. The study, which includes costs associated with tobacco, alcohol and illegal drug use, is a guide for policy-makers seeking to understand the magnitude of these problems and reduce the burden of substance abuse on Canadian society.

Slowing rates of HIV infection

Condom use and awareness programs do help in the fight against HIV/AIDS, according to an international study partly funded by CIHR. The study found a one-third decline in HIV infection rates among young women attending peer-based education programs in the southern states of India. The study was led by Dr. Prabhat Jha of the Centre for Global Health Research, University of Toronto.

Diagnosing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

It's traditionally been difficult to diagnose fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), but now Dr. James Reynolds of Queen's University is having success with a test based on patterns of eye movement. This fast, simple and portable eye-tracking test has been used in communities in northwest Ontario, and Dr. Reynolds and his team are collaborating with the Canada Northwest FASD Research Network (active in B.C. and Alberta) to include the test as part of its diagnostic tools. The ability to detect the disorder earlier means affected children can receive specialized treatment.

Replacing damaged skin

Dr. Lucie Germain and her colleagues at Laval University are testing reconstructed skin created using a new tissue engineering method they developed to see if it can improve healing for people with chronic wounds or ulcers. The engineered skin could also be used to treat people with severe burns.

Please don't drink the coffee!

Caffeine is generally thought of as an adult stimulant, but CIHR-funded research has found that it may help regulate the breathing of very premature babies. A study by Dr. Barbara Schmidt of McMaster University found that about a third of infants treated with caffeine for apnea - interrupted or irregular breathing due to their prematurity - required extra oxygen, compared to nearly half of those who received a placebo. The latter group also needed an extra week of ventilator therapy to support their breathing, compared to the babies who received caffeine. Apnea occurs in about 85% of babies born prior to 34 weeks' gestation.

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Realizing the Economic Benefits of Health Research

CIHR-funded research also contributed to Canada's economic strength, as spin-off companies built on this research marked new milestones:

Amorfix Life Sciences Ltd.
Amorfix Life Sciences Ltd., a Toronto-based company, was nominated as a Technology Pioneer 2007 by the World Economic Forum, the only Canadian company, out of a total of 47 nominees, selected for this year's award. Amorfix builds on the CIHR-funded discoveries of Dr. Neil Cashman of the University of British Columbia and Dr. Marty Lehto of the University of Toronto that will help to diagnose and treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Bioniche Life Sciences Inc.
A vaccine that fights E. coli in cattle has been authorized for use in Canada by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The vaccine was developed by Dr. Brett Finlay of the University of British Columbia and Dr. Andy Potter of the University of Saskatchewan and commercialized by Bioniche Life Sciences Inc., of London, Ontario. By preventing E. coli in cattle, the vaccine will also prevent its transmission to humans through meat products.

Award-winning companies started with CIHR funding

Four of Canada's Top 10 Life Science Companies, as named by the Ottawa Life Sciences Council, have their roots in CIHR funding.

Jennerex Biotherapeutics ULC of Ottawa is working on new cancer treatments based on viruses that attack cancerous cells while leaving healthy cells alone and has three products in Phase I and II clinical trials. The company is commercializing the research of Dr. John Bell of the University of Ottawa.

Liponex Inc., also of Ottawa, is in Phase II trials of a new drug to raise HDL, or "good" cholesterol. The drug could be used to prevent and treat heart disease. While initial trial results were disappointing, the firm plans to reformulate the drug for another round of tests. The company is based on the research of Dr. Daniel Sparks of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

Rimon Therapeutics Ltd., based in Toronto, is developing a "toolkit" of active, easy-to-use, and cost-competitive wound dressing based on its TheramerTM technologies, medical polymers that act without the use of drugs. It is based on the research of Dr. Michael Sefton of the University of Toronto.

StemPath Inc., also based in Ottawa, specializes in therapeutic solutions that encourage the body's natural regenerative capabilities to replace damaged tissue with new tissues. It is based on the research of Dr. Lynn Megeny of the Ottawa Health Research Institute, University of Ottawa.

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Measuring Success

Canadian Health Researchers Among the Most Productive in the World

According to a study published in 2006 (FASEB Journal, Vol. 20) that looked at the contribution of different world regions to the top 50 peer-reviewed biomedical journals, Canada ranked first in the world in terms of funds spent on health research compared to the articles published.

Developing and Supporting the Best and Brightest

CIHR supported more than 11,000 health researchers and trainees in 2006-07.

Over 100 new, early-career health researchers (principal investigators) received their first CIHR investigator-initiated operating grant in 2006-07.

Contributing to the Canadian Economy

Health research leads to new products, companies and jobs. By 2006-07, health research funded by CIHR and its predecessors had led to 128 spin-off companies, 19 of which are publicly traded.

A study by CIHR found that a group of 6,000 of its funded researchers, over the course of their careers, had obtained 939 patents/intellectual property rights as individuals and 2,965 patents/intellectual property rights as collaborators by the end of 2005-06.

Number of investigators and trainees supported in 2006-07:
(2000-01: 6,004)

Average value of open competition operating grants in 2006-07:
(2000-01: $92,000)

Number of grants and awards in 2006-07*:
(2000-01: 5,663)

* Excluding Canada Research Chairs and Networks of Centres of Excellence.

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