CIHR Annual Report 2011–12: The Measure of Success

Invest in World-Class Research
Enabling researchers to do great things

The IRP identified a number of possible improvements to help CIHR maximize its effectiveness in helping researchers do their work. In 2011–12 CIHR took a number of steps that respond to these recommendations1.

Larger grants with longer terms. Fewer peer review committees

CIHR drafted and released a design discussion document outlining an ambitious plan for overhauling the open operating grant program and peer review system. The proposed changes respond directly to extensive feedback from the research community and stakeholders about these two areas. The community has posed many critical questions. What can be done to reduce the complexity in CIHR funding programs? How can CIHR programs better accommodate research across the full spectrum of our mandate, including new and emerging areas of research? How can we increase confidence in the results of the peer review system and reduce the burden on peer reviewers? The proposed changes to improve CIHR's open suite of programs and peer review system address these concerns. The changes create opportunities for increased creativity and innovation and present a scenario in which researchers spend less time writing grant applications and more time doing research.

Enhance the career paths of young investigators

CIHR also responded to the need to provide extra support to young investigators. In the past fiscal year, the Government of Canada announced the second cohort of 70 Sir Frederick Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships. This exciting program has enrolled 140 of the best young brains from across Canada and around the world. Banting Fellows receive support from the program for two years to pursue innovative approaches to scientific discovery and its application. The program, administered by CIHR, fills a crucial role in helping young investigators establish their career and ensures that Canada attracts and retains top-tier postdoctoral talent.

Lead a Canada-wide effort to harmonize data sets and enable national linkages

Large datasets, whether they are from large-scale population-level cohort studies or from whole genome sequencing, are only widely useful if they can be aggregated, linked and optimized for sharing; researchers want the best possible data for meaningful analysis. CIHR recognizes that the current lack of data harmonization is compromising important progress across a range of health research fields. In the past fiscal year, the organization convened the first-ever national data summit to bring together stakeholders from across the research community to help develop a work plan to address data harmonization goals.

A Bold New Plan
for Health Research
in Canada

A dramatically different model for the open suite of programs and major changes to the peer review system – CIHR is seeking feedback on these and other bold changes in the Design Discussion Document it released in February 2012. The proposed changes respond to a number of concerns voiced by CIHR stakeholders. The document proposes to revamp the open suite of programs with two distinct schemes: a Foundation/Programmatic Scheme to provide longer-term support to investigators to engage in potentially high-impact and innovative health research, and a Project Scheme to provide funding for creative proposals with defined milestones. The document also outlines proposed enhancements to the peer review process, such as creating a College of Reviewers and using technology to conduct reviews in "a virtual space."

With So Much Data,
How Can Researchers
Share Results?

CIHR understands the need to address the challenges related to harmonizing research data to make it more accessible to investigators across the country and around the world. To address the challenge of data harmonization, IT experts at the CIHR-funded Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging designed three open source software applications, named Mastodon, Sabretooth and Beartooth. The software will protect confidentiality and manage interactions with 50,000 women and men aged 45 to 85 whose health data is being collected at 3-year intervals for at least 20 years. The standardized web-based services integrate directly with open source systems already in place with OBiBa, the international software development project that promotes data harmonization and facilitates collaboration among biobanks and researchers.

A Triumf of Creativity and Innovation –
Creating Technetium Isotopes
on Existing Cyclotrons

A team of researchers has found a way to produce the key medical isotope technetium-99m using cyclotrons. Tens of millions of medical procedures are conducted around the world each year using technetium-99m for detecting disease in the heart and bones, as well as elsewhere in the body. Two aging nuclear reactors, including one at Ontario's Chalk River, produce most of the global supply, but both have suffered major outages in recent years. The development will allow hospitals and clinics with existing cyclotrons – there are more than a dozen across Canada – to make the isotope. The CIHR-funded team was led by researchers at Triumf, Canada's national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics in Vancouver, and included scientists from the BC Cancer Agency, Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ontario, and the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization at McMaster University. In the photo above, Triumf researcher Mark Preddy assembles an automated chemistry rig that is used to purify technetium. (Photo courtesy of Triumf)

The Banting Fellows –
The Research Leaders of Tomorrow
at Work Here and Now

The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships Program helps Canada's best postdoctoral fellows undertake creative research projects at institutions in Canada or around the world and attracts some of the world's brightest researchers to Canada. In 2011, CIHR awarded 24 fellowships, including 10 to Canadians to conduct research in other countries. For example, Banting Fellow Dr. Catherine Lebel is studying brain development in children with perinatally acquired HIV at the University of California, Los Angeles. In the photo above, one of her study participants undergoes an MRI. CIHR administers this program, which rewards emerging leaders in their fields and builds world-class research capacity, in partnership with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). (Photo courtesy of Dr. Catherine Lebel)

  1. The subheadings in bold highlight specific recommendations made in the International Review Panel Report 2005–10, issued June 2011.
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