Science & Research

Healthy investment

Manitoba agencies team up to provide major financial support for health research projects

Drs. Marissa Becker, Bob Schroth, Shyamala Dakshinamurti and Rakesh Arora have all received awards from the Manitoba Research Council and the Manitoba Medical Services Foundation to carry out research in their respective fields
Drs. Marissa Becker, Bob Schroth, Shyamala Dakshinamurti and Rakesh Arora have all received awards from the Manitoba Research Council and the Manitoba Medical Services Foundation to carry out research in their respective fields.

BY BOB ARMSTRONG
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, January / February 2012

One is a doctor who works in the intensive care unit at Children's Hospital. Another is a dentist who spends a portion of his time at a clinic teaching kids about the benefits of oral health.

A third is a clinician who works in the HIV Clinic at the Health Sciences Centre, while a fourth is a cardiac surgeon who co-founded a national organization to help heart patients.

All four of these individuals may work in different areas of the health-care system. But they all have one thing in common: a desire to improve the delivery of care for Manitobans. That is one reason why they have each received clinical research professorships through a special partnership between the Manitoba Medical Service Foundation and the Manitoba Health Research Council. The awards are in the form of three-year research grants totalling $170,000.

"The intention is to free up these clinicians so they can do research," says Dr. Greg Hammond, Executive Director of the MMSF. The award buys time for clinician-researchers to step away from clinical work in order to focus on an important scientific question.

Typically, recipients of the MHRC/MMSF awards are in their first seven years of their careers and have established their own research specialties, says Hammond, noting that receiving such an award at that time can be particularly valuable. Many recipients of the MHRC/MMSF awards have built on their discoveries and followed up with prestigious national research awards. "We've been told that these grants have given their careers a real boost," says Hammond, noting that having such a research funding program available helps Manitoba compete for talented and innovative scientists.

The awards are designated as F.W. DuVal Clinical Research Professorships, named for a long-time member of the MMSF board, and John Henson Clinical Research Professorships in Population Medicine, named for a former vicepresident of Manitoba Blue Cross.

A wide range of specialists have received the awards over the years and have used their time to investigate many different medical questions. Having the award for population medicine available also supports research related to disease prevention and the determinants of health. "Quite often a clinician will become interested not only in their own patient but by the population that patient represents," notes Hammond, who says that Manitoba is an excellent place to do population health research.

The awards provide a benefit to the University of Manitoba, where recipients teach the next generation of health-care providers, and to Manitoba's hospitals and their patients, which benefit from new approaches and greater expertise. "A lot of their excellent researchers are also excellent clinicians. Sometimes they're unique because they have a special niche," he says.

The MMSF has its roots in Manitoba Medical Service, a not-for-profit entity founded in the 1940s to make health insurance available to Manitobans. In time, the insurance functions of the MMS were overtaken by the development of universal public health in Canada and the establishment of Manitoba Blue Cross for insurance of health services not covered by medicare.

When MMS was dissolved in the 1970s, its remaining funds - totalling $455,697 - were used to establish a foundation to support medical research and education in Manitoba. "The MMSF portfolio has grown to be approximately $8.4 million," says Hammond. "Manitoba Blue Cross continues to play an important role, providing sound business advice, capital contributions, research funding and administrative costs."

The Manitoba Health Research Council - a provincially funded agency with a mandate to support basic, clinical and applied health research - joined forces with the MMSF in 2009. Christina Weise, Executive Director of the MHRC, says the partnership has allowed for the expansion of the clinical research professorship program. "Thanks to this partnership, we have been able to increase the number and breadth of clinician scientists doing important medical research in Manitoba," says Weise. This special report, sponsored by the Manitoba Health Research Council, highlights the work being done by four MHRC/MMSF clinical professorship recipients.

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Wave: January / February 2012

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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