What is health research?

Generally speaking, Canadians are healthy.

Life expectancy in Canada is among the highest in the world. We have a publicly funded health care system, and we have access to cutting-edge medical treatments and surgery techniques. Compared to the last century, we are also better equipped to prevent, diagnose, and manage illness and disease.

But how did we get here?

These advancements didn’t happen overnight, and they also didn’t happen by chance.

What we know about health and disease today—and what we can do with that knowledge—comes from decades of research. Every study is like a small step of progress, and researchers across Canada continue to produce outstanding work that keeps our progress going.

Health research, in particular, is a critical component of this progress. From the biomedical sciences that start with our cells to the public health initiatives that aim to keep whole populations safe and well, health research is what leads to improved disease diagnoses, more effective options for treatment, and a strengthened health care system overall.

As the federal health research investment agency, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) supports this type of work across four main pillars. Each one is described below. These pillars are all important for addressing the health challenges we still face today and preparing us for the ones we’ll face tomorrow.

Because while our progress has been remarkable, we can’t stop now. Good health will always depend on great research.

Biomedical research (Pillar 1)

Biomedical research focuses on understanding how every part of the human body works—right down to our cells.

By studying these workings at the molecular, cellular, organ system, and whole-body levels, biomedical research leads to new ways of diagnosing, preventing, and treating illness and disease.

Clinical research (Pillar 2)

With the help of volunteer participants, clinical research leads to new and improved:

  • Medications, vaccines, therapies and treatments
  • Medical tests, procedures and practices
  • Medical tools, equipment and devices
  • Scientific knowledge and understanding of illness and disease

Health services research (Pillar 3)

Health services research focuses on improving health care for everyone.

By studying how health care services are organized, supported, and delivered across Canada, we can make the overall system better.

This research generates information to help enhance care for patients, reduce costs, and address the needs of health care providers.

Social, cultural, environmental and population health research (Pillar 4)

Social, cultural, environmental, and population health research aims to improve the health of entire communities.

There is more to your health than meets the eye! This type of research uncovers the ways that social, cultural, environmental, occupational, and economic factors can affect it—for better or for worse.

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