CIHR funds for Western, Schulich $625,000 in grants

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Dr. Lique Coolen, a professor in Western’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, recently secured over $625,000 in funding for her research into the connection between sexual experience and drug addiction. Coolen’s research is one of 26 Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funded projects announced May 8.

London-based research at Western, Robarts Research Institute, and Lawson Health Research Institute received a shared total of $8.9 million in funding from the federal government-run CIHR. The research projects, covering various health issues such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and injury treatment, range from one to five years in length.

Although London-based research accounts for a substantial portion of recent CIHR funding totaling $149.3 million over five years, fewer grants were awarded than in the past.

Dr. David Hill, scientific director at Lawson, explained government funding has not kept pace with demand.

“When CIHR was set up six or seven years ago, they thought it should have an operating budget of around $1 billion per year… In the last couple years, continuing into the Harper government, the progression towards the budget has slowed, stuck around $700 million,” Hill said. “The last budget saw a rise of just $37 million. That is just little more than a cost of living increase [and] still short of target.”

Hill noted the success rate of obtaining a grant has dropped to 16 per cent, nearly half of what it was initially.

According to Dr. Gerald M. Kidder, vice-president research and international relations at Western, competition for grants is fierce due to the “funding crunch” at CIHR.

“There won’t be much growth for graduate students [needing] master and doctoral funding,” Kidder said.

Michael Brandt, currently in his second year of a five-year residency in the surgical specialty of otolaryngology (head and neck) at Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, said research support is dismal.

“Although we are required to complete a yearly research project, my academic interests have allowed me to pursue multiple research endeavors across a variety of fields within my specialty,” Brandt said.

“Unfortunately, the absence of internal [Western] granting resources for resident research and the ultra-competitive nature of the limited number of external grants have resulted in several of these projects never progressing beyond their initial proposal stage.”

Hill noted it is proving difficult for younger researchers to gain funding, and this is having a negative impact on medical research in London.

“It’s a paradoxical situation, where we can recruit very good people in Lawson, Robarts, and Western... and yet when they arrive in London, it is very difficult [for them] to get operating grounds to actually perform their research,” Hill said. “It’s arresting the development of research in London.”

However, the problem stretches nationwide. Funding concerns will make it increasingly difficult to recruit and maintain new, young scientists across Canada.

“There’s other places where [graduates] can work, like the United States and Europe,” Hill said. “If there’s no substantial investment in CIHR... we’ll really start to see the effects and we’ll start to lose scientists.”

Brandt stressed the importance of research support, for both full and part-time endeavours, to “promote the academic productivity of tomorrow’s clinical scientists.

“The support of these research endeavours is critical to achieving high-quality projects that are of immense potential.”

According to Hill, the federal government needs to follow up promises with investment and should be informed about the importance of medical research.

“Research always goes in cycles, it’s never a linear path,” Hill said. “There’s times when the government policy does not seem particularly friendly and there’s times when it goes forward in leaps and bounds.

“Now is not one of the best times... we have to work on educating our elected representatives on the benefits of research. This is the work that is going to empower the economy of Canada.”

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