Annual Report 2007-2008

[ Table of Contents ]

Overview and Highlights of 2007-08

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 four central portfolios - research, knowledge translation, corporate affairs and finance. It provides leadership and support to nearly 12,000 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.

During 2007-08, CIHR continued to implement the recommendations of the International Review Panel that assessed CIHR's first five years. In keeping with the Government of Canada's Science and Technology Strategy, CIHR also focused on building stronger ties with its fellow federal funding agencies, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

Organizational Highlights 2007-08

Change at the top

Dr. Alan Bernstein, CIHR's inaugural President, left CIHR in November 2007 to take up a position as inaugural Executive Director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, where he will lead the development of a strategy to come up with an HIV vaccine while building partnerships among researchers, donors and advocates. The Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise is charged with setting scientific priorities, mobilizing resources and improving collaboration in the HIV vaccine field.

Dr. Alain Beaudet, currently President and Chief Executive Officer of the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (FRSQ), has been appointed the new President of CIHR and will take up office on July 1, 2008. Dr. Pierre Chartrand, CIHR's Vice-President of Research, will continue as Acting President of CIHR until then.

Ensuring access to research results

As of January 1, 2008, all recipients of new CIHR grants must ensure that all research papers that are generated from their CIHR-funded projects are freely accessible online within six months of publication. The Policy on Access to Research Outputs was developed in consultation with CIHR-funded researchers and stakeholders in governments, research, publishing and libraries. CIHR also looked to the experience of funding agencies in other countries that have similar policies. Greater access to research publications and data will help researchers in Canada and abroad use and build on the knowledge needed to address significant health challenges. Open access also allows authors to reach a much broader audience and will help make research users, such as policy makers, clinicians and the public, more aware of research knowledge in order to facilitate its use. Researchers with grants awarded prior to January 1, 2008 are also encouraged to comply with the policy.

Setting future directions, Part I: Blueprint renewal

CIHR's Strategic Plan, Blueprint, set five strategic directions for the organization to carry it through 2007-08. Now, CIHR has embarked on a process to set directions for the next five years - from 2008-09 to 2012-13. CIHR's Governing Council has directed CIHR's management to use the strategic directions in the initial Blueprint as a starting point for the Blueprint renewal process. Stakeholder consultations on the draft plan will take place during summer 2008 and the plan is expected to be approved by the Governing Council by late 2008-09.

Setting future directions, Part II: Updating Institute strategic plans

One of the first steps taken by CIHR's 13 Institutes was to develop strategic plans. Based on widespread consultations within their communities, these plans set the direction for Institute activities over the past five or more years.

Now, as CIHR undergoes revision of its own strategic plan, its Institutes are doing the same thing. They are revisiting their strategic plans, assessing the priorities they set and deciding on how best to build on existing research strengths and address important research questions. Institute strategic plans provide a roadmap to help CIHR Institutes respond to current and future challenges. These plans can be found on each Institute's website, which can be reached from CIHR's website.

Ethical guidelines for Aboriginal health research

Aboriginal peoples in Canada will now be more involved in planning, executing and sharing the outcomes of research conducted with and in their communities as a result of new research ethics guidelines developed by CIHR. The new CIHR Guidelines for Health Research Involving Aboriginal Peoples focus on conducting ethically and culturally competent research that balances the pursuit of scientific excellence with Aboriginal values and traditions. The Guidelines will be an essential tool for promoting research that will improve the health, well-being and health-care needs of Aboriginal peoples and build partnerships. They are the product of an extensive consultation process with Aboriginal communities, researchers and institutions. The Guidelines will also be an important contribution to the ongoing process to revise Section 6 of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, which addresses research involving Aboriginal peoples.

Facilitating gender- and sex-based analysis

For many years, health research was carried out on male subjects - and it was simply assumed the results would apply to women. We have come a long way since those days, but the need to implement gender- and sex-based analysis (GSBA) remains pressing. GSBA accounts for genetic, physiological, social and cultural diversity in the production of new knowledge, ensuring a more relevant and accurate evidence base upon which to develop practice, programs, policies and future research endeavours. CIHR has taken a leadership role as part of the national and international movement to apply GSBA in research. Through its Institute of Gender and Health, CIHR has produced a Resource Guide to help peer reviewers and applicants consider when and how sex and gender - and the interactions between them - influence the research they conduct and the health of women and men, girls and boys. Implementing GSBA in health research is fundamental to achieving research excellence. Now researchers have a tool to help them.

Research snapshot: Cancer

Investment in cancer research in Canada in 2005 reached $254 million according to an analysis released by the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance (CCRA). Of that, 44% came from CIHR. Nearly half the cancer research funding was invested in investigations of the biology of cancer, while 20% went to treatment research. Between 7 and 10% was invested in prevention. CCRA is an alliance of cancer research funding organizations and affiliated partners working together to enhance the overall state of cancer research funding in Canada. Dr. Philip Branton, Scientific Director of CIHR's Institute of Cancer Research, is the Co-Chair of the CCRA Board of Directors.

Mental Health Commission of Canada

On August 31, 2007, the Government of Canada launched the new Mental Health Commission of Canada. Creation of the Commission was recommended by the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology in its 2006 report, Out of the Shadows at Last: Transforming Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction Services in Canada. CIHR's Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction collaborated closely with the Senate Committee during the preparation of the report and will continue to collaborate with the Commission to ensure that the best possible mental health research evidence is available to inform its actions.

Partnering with industry

CIHR's Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes has partnered with the Rx&D Health Research Foundation to increase understanding of effective interventions to prevent and treat childhood obesity. The Rx&D Health Research Foundation is a private not-for-profit organization supported by members of Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (Rx&D).

Science on tap: Bringing health research to Canadians

Across the country, Canadians are gathering in cafés and pubs to talk with researchers about some of the most pressing health issues of the day. CIHR's Café Scientifique series bring together panels of health researchers for discussion in an informal setting intended to quench Canadians' interest in health. CIHR and its Institutes are holding the Cafés and CIHR is also funding non-profit organizations, universities or research centres who want to organize a Café. While at the Cafés, Canadians also have the opportunity to fill out surveys that tell CIHR how they would like to hear about progress in health research and where they think CIHR funding should be directed.

Research Breakthroughs 2007-08

Time Magazine names CIHR-funded study top medical breakthrough of 2007

An international research study has found that male circumcision is an effective way to reduce the incidence of HIV among young men. The study, led by Dr. Stephen Moses, a CIHR-funded researcher from the University of Manitoba, was named the top medical breakthrough of 2007 by Time Magazine, after two clinical trials of male circumcision were halted early when analysis of available data showed their dramatic success. CIHR provided more than $2.5 million in funding to this study.

It's my little blue pill...

And it's good for much more than just erectile dysfunction. In a CIHR-funded study, Dr. Evangelos Michelakis and his team have shown that Viagra can improve heart function, suggesting that it can be used to treat the heart when the right ventricle is failing. There is currently no treatment available for this condition.

You say tomayto, I say tomahto

No matter how you say it, tomatoes mean good things for your health, particularly if you're a postmenopausal woman. Dr. Leticia Rao, a CIHR-funded researcher at the University of Toronto, has found that postmenopausal women who consume more lycopene, a powerful anti-oxidant, from tomatoes and tomato products, had a lower amount of a specific bone protein associated with osteoporosis. Her findings could lead to new strategies to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

A place to grow old - building better cities for Canada's seniors

CIHR-funded researcher Dr. Verena Menec of the University of Manitoba is contributing to the development of cities in which seniors can live happily, healthily and independently. As part of the World Health Organization's Global Age-Friendly Cities Project, Dr. Menec conducted a series of focus groups with seniors from Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, to learn more about their experiences living in the small agricultural city. The WHO has used the information from the seniors of Portage la Prairie and 32 other cities around the world to create a guidebook to help communities include and accommodate seniors.

A test for autism

Scientists at the University of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, led by CIHR-funded researcher Dr. Steven Scherer, have identified a specific region of chromosome 16 as the culprit in 1% of autism cases. When the genetic code in this region is deleted, this seems to result in more severe cases of autism; if it is duplicated, the disorder appears to be milder. The mutation does not appear to be inherited. They plan to offer testing to patients as soon as possible - welcome news to parents who already have one child with autism and who fear a higher risk of a second child also having autism. The test, says Dr. Scherer, is relatively cheap and easy to perform. As well, it offers the option of diagnosis of newborns, or even before birth. Currently, doctors tend to rely on psychological tests that can only be used around age 3.

Yet more good news about folic acid

Folic acid's impact on reducing the rate of neural tube defects such as spina bifida is well known. Now, a CIHR-funded team led by Dr. Shi Wu Wen of the Ottawa Health Research Institute has found that folic acid, particularly during the second trimester, can reduce the risk of preeclampsia. Characterized by high maternal blood pressure, preeclampsia is a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death worldwide. The researchers followed some 3,000 pregnant women and found that preeclampsia occurred in 2.2% of women who took multivitamins containing folic acid, compared to 5.1% of women who did not. Another CIHR-funded study has pointed to yet more benefits of folic acid. Dr. Bhushan Kapur of the University of Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre has found that folic acid can significantly slow the neurotoxicity of formic acid, a by-product of methanol found in alcoholics. His research indicates that folic acid, an inexpensive and readily available supplement, could be used in treating alcoholism and, possibly, preventing fetal alcohol syndrome.

Mmm... more fruits and veggies, please! The benefits - and limits - of breastfeeding

Babies enjoy fruits and vegetables more if their moms regularly eat those foods while they're breastfeeding, according to a study carried out by Dr. Catherine Forestell, a CIHR-funded postdoctoral fellow at Philadelphia's Monell Center, and Dr. Julie Mennella, a biopsychologist at the Center. The study also found that parents shouldn't give up if a baby makes a face when first given the food - it's a natural reaction and doesn't mean that the baby doesn't like it. Also on the breastfeeding front, a study led by Dr. Michael Kramer, Scientific Director of CIHR's Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health, has found that, while breastfeeding is great for baby's health, it can't be counted on to protect children from becoming overweight. He also found that breastfeeding doesn't protect children against developing asthma or allergies. The findings stem from the largest randomized trial ever undertaken on breastfeeding, the Promotion of the Breastfeeding Intervention Trial (PROBIT), which followed nearly 14,000 children in 31 Belarussian maternity hospitals and their affiliated clinics.

Women treated differently in emergency rooms

Women over 50 visiting emergency rooms appear less likely than men to be admitted to the intensive care unit and spend less time there once they are admitted, according to CIHR-funded researcher Dr. Robert Fowler from the University of Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. They are also less likely to receive selected life-supporting treatments, such as mechanical ventilation, and more likely than men to die after a critical illness. Dr. Fowler and his team suggest that the gender-related differences could be due to differences in preferences or decision making among the patients, their surrogate decision makers or the health-care team.

Talk to me, doctor!

Physicians who score low in patient-physician communications and clinical decision making during their training have higher rates of patient complaints once they start practicing, according to CIHR-funded researcher Dr. Robyn Tamblyn of McGill University. Her findings have important implications for medical educators and licensing authorities.

Learning more about type 2 diabetes

Eliminating a specific type of gene in mice causes more sugar to become stored in their livers, meaning that insulin had become more effective. The finding, by CIHR-funded researchers Drs. Katrina MacAulay and Bradley Doble at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, could lead to new treatments for people with type 2 diabetes. Meanwhile, CIHR-funded researcher Dr. Ron Sigal of the University of Calgary, with colleagues at the University of Ottawa, has found that combining aerobic exercise with resistance training can double the benefits in terms of controlling blood sugar than either activity on its own. And a dietary clinical trial led by Dr. Thomas Wolever of the University of Toronto has found that people with type 2 diabetes who ate a low glycemic-index diet had reduced levels of C-reactive protein. C-reactive protein is a common indicator of the risk of cardiovascular disease. More than 2 million people in Canada suffer from diabetes, 90% of them with type 2 diabetes. More than 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

Well, rattle my bones!

Lithium, a drug used most commonly to treat bipolar disorder, also plays a critical role in improving the bone healing process, according to a study by Dr. Benjamin Alman and a team of CIHR-funded researchers at the University of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. Delayed healing of bone fractures can cause substantial disability and often requires additional surgery. Finding a drug that can enhance bone healing has been a long-sought treatment that could improve fracture repair and substantially improve patient outcomes.

Walking to the beat

A team of neuroscientists led by Drs. Bin Hu at the University of Calgary and Ian Whishaw at the University of Lethbridge has found that music can help people with Parkinson's disease walk with greater safety and confidence. With funding from CIHR, Dr. Hu and his colleagues have developed a wireless device called NeuroExplore to monitor people's walking patterns. If a person begins to walk with an unsteady gait, the device will emit a warning sound or begin to play rhythmic music. The team has discovered that people trained to walk with familiar songs with danceable beats are less likely to lose their balance while walking than people moving without music. The researchers have also found that songs can be tailored to people's walking patterns to create personalized "walk songs" and used to facilitate daily exercise.

Breaching the barriers - or not

Normally the blood-brain barrier is just that, a barrier that few cells can breach. However, in people with multiple sclerosis (MS), cells called leukocytes can travel through the barrier with ease, penetrating the central nervous system and leading to the neuroinflammation and brain lesions that are found in MS. CIHR-funded researcher Dr. Alexandre Prat of the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM) and his team have found a molecule that plays a role in helping leukocytes move across the blood-brain barrier. Developing a drug that blocks this molecule could lead to new ways to treat MS.

No dishonour in giving up

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. That old dogma may not be so true and may actually be bad for your health. Dr. Carsten Wrosch of Concordia University has found that teenaged girls continually striving to attain a hard-to-reach goal show increased levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory molecule that, in adults, has been linked with diabetes, heart disease and early aging. Dr. Wrosch's work was deemed one of the world's 70 most intriguing discoveries of 2007 by the New York Times Magazine. Dr. Wrosch was the 2005 winner of CIHR's Institute of Aging Special Recognition Prize for New Investigators in research on aging.

Building international synergies

Fourteen international research teams funded through the Teasdale-Corti Global Health Partnership got together in November 2007 to share their experiences and ended up forging alliances to move their projects forward. The University of Calgary's Dr. Craig Stephen, who is leading a project to enhance the surveillance of animal health in Sri Lanka, in part to help prevent pandemics, has teamed up with Dr. Ana Sanchez of Ontario's Brock University, who is leading a project to reduce the transmission of a disease carried by pigs. As a result of their collaboration, both teams are benefitting from their shared expertise on the overlap between animal and human health. Their work is also helping to improve the role of veterinarians in public health in Canada.

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