Solving complex research challenges requires more than individual effort. It also takes the willingness and skill to bring together government, academia and the private sector.
Research in Action
Sharing the stories of health research advancements
Here we profile some of the excellent research initiatives being undertaken by Members of Research Canada: An Alliance for Health Discovery.
Health research, which leads to the development of new and better health products and services saves lives and eases suffering. Health research also provides employment and creates economic opportunity for our country. It makes our health care system more efficient, effective and, in many cases, more economical.
Health research has a direct impact on advancements in health care. Consider, for example, how the discovery of insulin by Canadian researchers Banting and Best has impacted the lives of 2 million Canadians living with diabetes. Canadian health researchers continue to make discoveries everyday that are improving the health of Canadians, advancing patient care and the delivery of health services. Below are two recent examples.
Lawson Health App
“The most common cause of death among people with psychotic or mood disorders is suicide,” says Dr. Cheryl Forchuk, a Scientist and Assistant Director at Lawson Health Research Institute, London, Ontario. “That is why maintaining communication between patients and community-based care providers is essential to preventing re-admission to treatment, homelessness and worse outcomes.”
Dr. Forchuk, with the help of Canada Health Infoway found just the way to bridge this communication gap when chronic mental health patients from the mental health programs at London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, as well as from community agencies, were provided with a Lawson Health App loaded onto free smartphones. This app helped them manage their symptoms and placed them in immediate contact with a community health team. The results demonstrated great improvement in their quality of life and reduced need for re-admission into bedded psychiatric facilities.
“With this technology, mental health patients can now just send their care providers a secure text message saying ‘This is what’s going on right now.’ As care providers, we will be much better able to help and intervene earlier,” says Dr. Forchuk.
The Power of Ultrasound Waves
A non-invasive brain procedure that uses ultrasound waves is offering new hope to patients suffering from hand tremors that make simple tasks such as drinking, writing and buttoning up a shirt, extremely challenging. “It’s exciting because it’s, essentially, a new form of technology,” says Dr. Kevin Imrie, physician-in-chief at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
The technique, developed by a Sunnybrook colleague, can replace risky surgeries, Imrie notes. It allows focused ultrasound, guided by magnetic resonance imaging, to target the cells deep within the brain causing the tremors. Patients experienced immediate improvements following the procedure and three months later there was an 81 per cent reduction in tremors.
The Standing Committee on the Future of Science and Technology in Canada, chaired by Senator Michael Kirby, concluded in 2002
…that countries with a strong health research network are more capable of translating advances and innovations into cost-effective health services, modern and internationally competitive policy and regulatory frameworks, new or adaptive products, and new health promotion activities. An energetic health research environment contributes to improved health, higher quality of life, and an efficient health care system.1
More health research does lead to better health care!
- Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, (2002). The Health of Canadians The Federal Role. Final Report on the State of the Health Care System in Canada Volume Six: Recommendations for Reform. p. 207. Ottawa: Author. http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/372/soci/rep/ repoct02vol6-e.pdf
Medical device technologies, which range from simple thermometers to sophisticated diagnostic imaging equipment, represent one of the world’s fastest growing economic sectors. With over 1.5 million devices already on the market, and 3,000 new ones entering it every year, the sector is closing in on annual revenues of $1 trillion.
Health care cannot be delivered without medical devices. With aging populations and emerging economies, the demand for innovative medical devices is going to increase. Here are some examples of ground-breaking medical device technologies that are resulting in better health care for Canadians:
1 Ward of the 21st Century
The W21C is an initiative based at the University of Calgary that serves as a research and beta test-site for prototypical hospital design, novel approaches to health care delivery, human factors research, and innovative medical technologies.
2 Arctic Front Advance
Medtronic’s Arctic Front Advance is the world’s first cryo balloon indicated in the treatment of Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation (PAF). The Arctic Front Advance cryoballoon delivers a refrigerant through an inflatable balloon to freeze tissue and disable unwanted electrical circuits that contribute to PAF.
3 Engage Biomechanics
York University’s Engage Biomechanics is developing a wireless sensor platform for pressure ulcer care tracking. A nurse knows when to turn a bed-ridden patient with this platform, which brings sensor networks and the power of the cloud to medical data.
4 CT Perfusion for Diagnosis in Acute Stroke
CT perfusion for diagnosis in acute stroke at Lawson Health Research Institute allows existing CT scanners in hospitals to measure tissue blood flow via a software program developed in Dr. T.Y. Lee’s lab. GE Healthcare has licensed the software for use on their CT scanners to study stroke, cancer and heart attack patients. Doctors are better equipped with this technology to diagnose conditions rapidly and recommend appropriate treatment.
5 Techna Institute
Techna is a new institute at the University Health Network (UHN), established in collaboration with the University of Toronto, and devoted to the advancement of health technologies. Its mission is to shorten the time interval from technology discovery and development to application of such technologies for the benefit of patients and the healthcare system, and to facilitate the convergence of basic investigation, technology development and translational research.
6 Ultrasound Monitoring of Breast Cancer Chemotherapy (WaveCheck)
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and MaRS Innovation co-developed WaveCheck, an ultrasound technology that transforms conventional equipment so that physicians can monitor a breast cancer tumour’s response to chemotherapy. This new Ultrasound tool can determine if the therapy is working or not within two weeks.
7 UBC Medtech Innovations
The University of British Columbia (UBC) is building a culture of moving medtech innovations into practice: the Sterilizable Drillcover lets surgeons in developing countries use regular hardware store drills instead of expensive and unavailable surgical drills (Engineers in Scrubs); the SmartDrill gives trauma surgeons x-ray vision without x-rays when they’re fixing broken bones (Traumis Surgical Systems); Aspect Biosystems’ 3D bioprinting platform will provide human tissues on demand, reducing the need for animals in drug discovery and ultimately addressing the shortage of donor organs (Aspect Biosystems).
8 ShoeBOX Audiometry
ShoeBOX was originally developed at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute. Ottawa start-up company Clearwater Clinical has essentially reinvented the audiometer for current practice – merging mobile device technology and traditional audiometry functions to meet modern hearing testing needs. The iPad based Shoebox audiometry solution allows doctors and clinicians to perform critically needed testing anywhere, with the same tone thresholds obtained by traditional audiometry systems.
Innovative medicines help Canadians live longer and healthier lives. They also ease the burden on our healthcare system by avoiding more costly hospitalizations and invasive surgical procedures.
“When appropriately prescribed and adhered to by patients, innovative medicines are a key enabler of long-term health system sustainability,” says Russell Williams, President of Canada’s Research- Based Pharmaceutical Companies (Rx&D). “Innovative medicines and vaccines are often the most effective means of treating and preventing illness – and sometimes the only available treatment for some conditions. They minimize the cost of achieving a desired health outcome, maximize the health benefits that can be achieved within a given cost-constraint, and often produce health and societal benefits that exceed the costs of treatment,” he says.
All it takes is one molecule to create a new medicine. It might sound simple, but what goes into making new medicines is highly complex – and new treatments are worth it. From the molecule to your medicine cabinet, it can take 10 to 15 years to develop a new medicine and cost about 2.6 billion dollars in research and development.
There is no guarantee of success; the vast majority of potential medicines never reach the market, with most discarded during initial screening. Researchers are constantly going back to the drawing board to evaluate if new molecules have the potential to improve the way we treat illnesses.
It’s true that the entire process takes a lot of time and can be very costly – and in some cases, the time it takes can be prohibitive and unnecessarily long. We need to act to come up with solutions that will create an environment that fosters and supports new developments in medicine, while at the same time guaranteeing the quality, safety and efficacy of new treatments so that Canadians can receive the best treatments, as early as possible.
Scientific advances are providing exciting new opportunities to develop new treatments that will save lives. Thanks to human genome sequencing, scientists are now able to identify genetic causes or predispositions to diseases, and healthcare practitioners are able to choose medicines that target illnesses or diseases based on these factors.
For patients, it means treatment that is responsive to their illness, offers fewer side effects and works with a patient’s own genetic makeup to treat disease. There is no debate: innovative medicines continue to revolutionise healthcare and offer enormous benefits to patients.
How drugs are approved in Canada
Clinical Trials Ontario: Why Ontario?
Saving Lives, Transforming Care
How drugs are approved in CanadaHow drugs are approved in Canada: This video shows the hurdles researchers and innovators face to bring effective medicines to patients.
Clinical Trials Ontario: Why Ontario?Research Canada encourages the promotion of clinical trials right across the country. This particular video, submitted by one of our Members, promotes Ontario; however, most of the advantages mentioned in the video apply to all of Canada and each province has much to offer.
Saving Lives, Transforming Care
Developing a virtual brain
In this video (right), Dr. Randy McIntosh, Director of the Rotman Research Institute, Baycrest Geriatric Centre, in Toronto discusses the development of a virtual brain and its benefits for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.
Occupational therapists keep drivers on the road safer and longer
The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists(CAOT), launched the National Blueprint for Injury Prevention in Older Drivers in February 2009. The Blueprint strives to enhance the capacity of older adults to maintain their fitness to drive and ability to drive safely for as long as possible.
Nitroglycerin skin patch use in preterm labour cases
The Obstetrics, Maternal and Newborn Investigations (OMNI) group of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute has played an important role in a series of studies on the use of nitroglycerin skin patches in women in preterm labour. The most recent study shows that these simple, inexpensive patches can save an average of $5,000 in hospital costs per preterm pregnancy by reducing the need for neonatal intensive care. The researchers suggest that policies should be developed to encourage greater use of these patches. Read more about the study.
“Bilingual” neurons may reveal the secrets of brain disease
A team of researchers from the University of Montreal and McGill University have discovered a type of “cellular bilingualism” – a phenomenon that allows a single neuron to use two different methods of communication to exchange information.
“Our work could facilitate the identification of mechanisms that disrupt the function of dopaminergic, serotonergic and cholinergic neurons in diseases such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and depression,” wrote Dr. Louis-Eric Trudeau of the University of Montreal’s Department of Pharmacology and Dr. Salah El Mestikawy, a researcher at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and professor at McGill’s Department of Psychiatry. An overview of this discovery was published in the Nature Reviews Neuroscience journal. Their results show that many neurons in the brain are able to control cerebral activity by simultaneously using two chemical messengers or neurotransmitters. Read more at: www.douglas.qc.ca/news/1088
Increasing Canadians’ standard of living and growing the economy is not just about tax breaks. It is also about reinventing health care through robust investments in Canada’s health innovation system from discovery research to commercialization programs that translate research into products and services, which in turn create knowledge-based jobs and build an innovation nation. That’s how we will not only compete, but thrive in the knowledge-based economy.
We must also continue to catalyze the development and application of genomics and genomic-based technologies, which create economic and social benefits for Canadians through our support of Genome Canada.