into people with type 1 diabetes,
allowing their bodies to process sugar
Plenty of other important research
initiatives are also coming out of the
province, such as the University of
Calgary’s Thrombosis Research Unit
(which is improving how doctors treat
blood clots) and the Alberta Bone
and Joint Health Institute (which is
finding cost-effective ways to treat
osteoarthritis in the knee and reduce
wait times for joint replacements).
Alberta’s provincial health-care
system attracts health researchers, Todd
says, because data can be collected and
easily shared between different medical
centres. Other cities and provinces
in Canada don’t have this kind of
system, making it hard for them to
gather good local information to make
Dealing with the data
Translating research results to health-care practice is a big challenge for
“There’s so much data out there,
so much good information, and our
challenge is to utilize it,” Todd says.
To make it easier, AHS has created 10
strategic clinical networks, which bring
together experts to find better ways of
These networks focus on better
care and better value for Albertans.
The network areas are: addiction and
mental health, bone and joint health,
cancer care, cardiovascular health and
stroke and critical care. Other areas
of focus include emergency, seniors’
health, surgery, obesity, diabetes and
nutrition, and respiratory conditions.
More networks are planned for 2014
Focusing on patients
Research can often be expensive and
take a long time to produce results.
More and more though, research
funders are focusing on studies most
likely to help patients or the health-care
system in the near future.
“Provincially, nationally and
internationally, health research funders
have become much more interested
in return on investment,” says
Dr. Cy Frank, CEO of Alberta
Innovates – Health Solutions (AIHS).
The impact of health research—a
topic he’s studied extensively—can
be far-reaching. Not only can health
research help patients, but it can also
create more efficiency in the health-care
system and even help industry create
health-related products and services.
Frank says AIHS takes an even-handed approach to the topic of return
on investment, funding both applied
research projects and basic science.
“I believe you need both types of
research working in harmony,” he says.
After all, it’s just as important to find a
better way to treat a disease through
an applied research project, as it is
to find a cure, something only basic
science can deliver.
During her life, 33-year-old Smith
has seen treatments for cystic fibrosis
improve dramatically. In fact, she’s
alive today because of a double-lung
transplant she received at the U of
A Hospital in the summer of 2010, a
surgery that wasn’t available the year
she was born.
Until a cure is found, Smith is
happy to participate in local research
however she can: “If it’s not hurting you
and it’s providing valuable information
that can help someone else, why
The impact of health research
can be far reaching and can create more
efficiency in the health-care system
Goes beyond the lab
Sure, lots of outstanding research
involves laboratories, test tubes and
beakers, but health researchers study
all aspects of wellness.
“Research is a search for knowledge
and evidence to make decisions,”
says Dr. Kathryn Todd, senior vice
president of Research, Innovation and
Analytics for Alberta Health Services.
It is just as likely to happen in an
office, a hospital or a community
as in a lab, and topics can include
everything from how to educate
people about obesity or asthma to
how to develop the best drugs to
Needs local perspective
“You can’t always use only other
people’s knowledge,” Todd says. For
example, research results from outside
of the province can be based on
individuals with little in common with
Albertans. And research conducted
elsewhere may not answer the
questions being asked here at home.
“Sometimes you have to put some
skin in the game,” Todd says. This
means investing in local research
infrastructure, projects and researchers.
Health economist Philip Jacobs, with
the University of Alberta’s Faculty
of Medicine, points out that local
health researchers are often clinicians,
as well, and that their knowledge
can benefit their patients directly.
“There’s a close connection between
community care and academic
research,” says Jacobs.
Very few researchers work alone,
says Dr. Cy Frank, CEO of Alberta
Innovates – Health Solutions
“Research has become much more
of a team activity,” he says. The
stereotype of the researcher toiling
alone in a lab couldn’t be further from
the truth, says Frank. “Researchers
are regular people who are really
interested in making a difference.”