Celebrating the impact of health research: success stories in arthritis, bone, muscle, musculoskeletal rehabilitation, oral health, and skin


Musculoskeletal health disorders, arthritis, skin diseases and oral health conditions cost the Canadian economy billions each year and exact a physical, mental and emotional toll both on those who suffer from them and on their families. Canada's research community is reducing these burdens through problem solving, innovation and knowledge sharing.

The purpose of this publication is to increase awareness and understanding of the value and impact of research in these areas; highlight the effectiveness of different research methodologies from different CIHR research themes (biomedical, clinical, health services, population health) in achieving impact; and document and celebrate the legacy of both CAN and CIHR–IMHA as Canadian research funding agencies.

The stories in this publication also demonstrate the value of collaboration between those who conduct research and those who use its results. For instance, the stories illustrate how the voices of community members helped oral health researchers target their research questions to ensure they would meet the needs of communities and care providers; how firefighters co–led a research program that contributed to building an evidence–informed physical demands analysis and screening program that is being used to improve safety and return to work; and the value of peer–to–peer mentoring for people just diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis.

The stories cover a broad range of subjects:

  • In the biomedical area, research has focused on transferring knowledge about the genetic basis of muscular dystrophy into interventions that replace the defective gene with one that functions; developing biomarkers to enable early identification of a kind of skin cancer that masquerades as more–benign skin conditions such as psoriasis; elucidating the key role of an enzyme whose absence or mutation results in toxic levels of vitamin D in the body and calcium buildup in the kidneys; developing a bio–engineered blood clot to create a more lasting knee cartilage repair; and understanding the critical role of blood platelets in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis as a first step to a different pathway for treatment.
  • Clinical research has led to advances in the treatment of foot wounds in people with diabetes, advances that could put an end to amputation; greater attention to the role of physician bias in gender disparities in hip and knee replacement surgery; the discovery that a commonly used surgical treatment for knee osteoarthritis is of little or no benefit, changing clinical practice in Canada and internationally; and video games that both increase and monitor hand function among people with arthritis of the hand.
  • Research is also making health services more effective and efficient, for instance by improving the care path for hip and knee replacement surgery for residents of Alberta, improving outcomes, reducing wait times and saving money in the process.
  • Population health research is increasing physical activity and improving eating habits among schoolchildren in BC to reduce obesity and prevent chronic diseases; and focusing on rheumatoid arthritis among First Nations to enable its early detection and treatment.

This collection of stories highlights the significant impacts health research can achieve. Although each is different, as a group, they exemplify the commitment of Canadian researchers to improving the health of Canadians. Research findings that are not widely known or applied, however, remain academic. This publication is a step toward wider knowledge and application of research results in the area of musculoskeletal health and arthritis. By effectively communicating these and future research stories, CIHR–IMHA and CAN are helping to ensure that investments in health research ultimately benefit Canadians and strengthen Canada's health–care system.


The Canadian Arthritis Network (CAN) was established as one of Canada's Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) in 1998. The impact of this NCE has been nothing short of extraordinary in its focus on innovative research that can improve the lives of Canadians who live with one of more than 200 arthritis–related conditions. Whether it be research aimed at new product development, health services improvements, biological advances or increased awareness of the diseases and their impact on people's lives, CAN has made a difference. These stories bring CAN's successes to life.

The CIHR Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis (CIHR–IMHA) is one of the 13 institutes that make up the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Government of Canada's health research investment agency. CIHR–IMHA's mandate is to support research and knowledge translation activities not only in arthritis but also in skin, oral health, muscle, bone and musculoskeletal (MSK) rehabilitation. This document highlights the impact of research in these focus areas through stories about scientific discovery, patient engagement and improved health outcomes for the Canadian population.

On behalf of both CAN and CIHR–IMHA, we are grateful for the generous contributions of the Impact Stories Advisory Committee. Its members worked tirelessly to develop the call for submissions and to reach out to the research community. They also developed a comprehensive review system, including strict criteria and metrics, to select the top 15 stories for publication in this document. We would like to acknowledge the committee members and in particular the chair, Dr. John O'Keefe, who, along with staff members, committed themselves to its success. This is a celebration of the impact of research. It is also a call for the continuation of collaborations that will bring academia, patients, consumers, the private sector and funders together to improve products and services and the health care system. We are delighted to share these stories with you.

Phillip Gardiner
Scientific Director (Interim)
CIHR Institute of Musculoskeletal Health & Arthritis

Monique Gignac
Co–Scientific Director
Canadian Arthritis Network

Claire Bombardier
Co–Scientific Director
Canadian Arthritis Network


The CIHR Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis (CIHR–IMHA) and the Canadian Arthritis Network (CAN) would like to acknowledge the following individuals for their time, effort and expertise in the creation of this publication:

  • The story authors;
  • The Impact Stories Advisory Committee: Ms. Flora M. Dell CM, Dr. David A. Hart, Dr. Terry Montague, Mr. Philip Hassen, Dr. Joy MacDermid, Dr. John O'Keefe (Chair), Ms. Christine Janus, Ms. Shaila Karim;
  • Story editor: Ms. Heather Blumenthal;
  • Project managers: Ms. Emily Neff (CIHR–IMHA) & Ms. Linda Ward (CAN);
  • York University students in the Experiential Education program for their design ideas.

Production of this publication was made possible by the financial contribution of CIHR–IMHA and CAN.

CIHR Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis
University of Toronto
Faculty of Medicine, The Banting Institute100 College Street, Suite 207B
Toronto, Ontario
M5G 1L5 Canada
CIHR Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis

Canadian Institutes of Health Research
160 Elgin Street, 9th Floor
Address Locator 4809A
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0W9 Canada
Canadian Institutes of Health Research

The Canadian Arthritis Network
700 University Avenue
Room 8–400–6–1
Toronto, Ontario
M5G 1Z5 Canada
The Canadian Arthritis Network

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada (2013)
Cat. No. MR4–25/2013
ISBN 978–1–100–54566–0

This collection of stories was produced by the Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian Arthritis Network, one of Canada's Networks of Centres of Excellence. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis, or the Canadian Arthritis Network. To obtain copies of this publication or to supply feedback, please contact imha@cihr-irsc.gc.ca.

Individual story authors have agreed to their appearance in this publication and approved their individual stories.

Date modified: