Health research seeks B.C. boost

UBC Reports | Vol. 46 | No. 15 | October 05, 2000

Medical investigators have to “scrap for every penny,” says researcher

B.C. ranks second to last in Canada when it comes to providing funds to
build and maintain health research capacity, say local organizers of Health
Research Awareness Week (HRAW).
The group aims to improve that ranking with an awareness-raising campaign that
takes place Oct. 10-13 and is part of a nationwide effort to build
support for health research.

B.C. HRAWactivities include a survey of B.C. residents’
opinions about investing in provincial health research. Results will be
revealed Tuesday, Oct. 11 at the B.C. HRAWkickoff
event which includes a press conference and summit where participants will get
an update on B.C.’s health research capacity and hear from two prominent
health journalists about health research news coverage.
The B.C. campaign supports the efforts of the Coalition for
Health Research in British Columbia. Aubrey Tingle, assistant dean of Research
in the Faculty of Medicine, chairs the coalition that comprises research groups
and voluntary organizations committed to increasing B.C.’s health
research capacity. UBC’s vice-president, Research, Indira Samarasekera
is a member of the coalition’s steering committee.
“Recent increases in federal funding for health research offer
unprecedented opportunity,” says Tingle. “However, to compete successfully for
these grants, applicants must have trained people and infrastructure in place
to do the research. The coalition is working hard to create that base but in
the meantime lack of provincial support means our researchers and health system
are losing out on some federal support.”

The province’s health research support organization, the B.C.Health
Research Foundation (BCHRF), received only $3 million in funding last
year from the provincial government. Alberta health researchers received more
than $36 million from provincial sources while Quebec committed more than $50
million.

“BCHRF funding and provincial support from other sources such as the
B.C. Knowledge Development Fund are very helpful for preliminary work
before a request is made to a national agency and for building experience in
clinical research,” says Ric Spratley, acting associate vice-president,
Research. “It helps us become more competitive at the national level, but more
work needs to be done.”

Dr. Stephanie Ensworth, a clinical assistant professor of Rheumatology, says
that B.C. health researchers have to “scrap for every single penny.”

Ensworth does clinical research on systemic auto-immune disorders such as
lupus, a disease that affects one in 1,000 people and nine times more
women than men. She is especially interested in how the disease
affects young women and reproductivity.
“The health research environment here can be frustrating and while there are a
few successes, overall it seems to be going downhill,” says the UBC
alumna who directs the lupus program at Vancouver’s Mary Pack Arthritis Centre.
“My clinical work supports my research which I try to fit into my spare
time — on weeknights and weekends.”
Although she has received some support from BCHRF, Ensworth says
provincial funding can be inconsistent and she relies heavily on support from
non-profit organizations such as the B.C. Lupus Society. Even financing
basic research tools, such as a database program, is diffcult.

For more information on HRAW activities, call (604) UBC-INFO
(822-4636). For information on the Coalition for Health Research in British
Columbia, visit the Web site at www.bchrf.org/coalition.