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CIHR president issues call to scientists to engage public in value of health research


Ottawa, ON – Dr Alan Bernstein, president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) published an open letter to the scientific community this week that draws attention to the success of the CIHR since it was launched in 2000, and the funding challenges it faces in the future.

In the letter, he warns that success rates for the upcoming open grants competition will be much lower than for previous open grant competitions. The reason, he states, is more researchers are applying for more money, but at the same time without an increase in the CIHR’s base budget, the organization will have less uncommitted funds to award to new grant applications.

He provides a past, present and future perspective on health research in Canada, and shares some ideas on how the scientific community can approach the current funding crunch.

The CIHR has been enormously successful, with opportunities for targeted research support increasing from about $26 million in 1999 to approximately $172 million today, with the CIHR’s budget growing from $289 million in 1999-2000 to $723 million in 2006-2007. The number of investigators funded has increased from around 2,100 in 1999-2000 to 3,300 in 2005-2006.

The organization also spearheaded an ambitious new vision for health research and broadened the definition of health research to include four critical areas: biomedical, clinical, health systems and population health.

The capacity for health research has grown enormously across the country, but unfortunately at the same time the cost of carrying out competitive international research has skyrocketed.

Also, as research projects are committed over 3-5 year spans, the amount of uncommitted funds available each year are heavily dependent on new funds from parliament. As budget growth has slowed in the past few years, the size of uncommitted funds has also shrunk.

In his letter, Dr Bernstein recommends a course of action that includes scientists taking the opportunity to demonstrate the value of health research to the Canadian public and parliamentarians.

“There are great scientific and social challenges that lie ahead,” he writes. “The unsustainable rising costs of health care, the rapid aging of the Canadian population, the impact of environmental change and global warming on human health, the development of new tools to understand complex biological systems like the brain, and the need to understand the epidemic of obesity, are only a small number of examples that cry out for answers, answers that only health research can provide. These are the stories that need to be told to parliamentarians.”

The full text of Dr Bernstein’s letter can be found at: www.news.gc.ca/cfmx/view/en/index.jsp?articleid=267839