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As the President of the Canadian Thoracic Society (CTS), I subscribe to the view that the CTS can only be as strong as its three pillars: guidelines, education and research. During the past few years, we have been working diligently in the field of guidelines and education. This is most evident in the creation of the Canadian Respiratory Guidelines Committee (CRGC) and the Canadian Respiratory Conference, as well as in the continued successes of the annual CTS Scientific Program at CHEST. The CTS has also been consolidating its educational policies and procedures as part of the renewal of our status as an accredited continuing medical education provider. We have been industrious in guidelines development and education, and will continue on that path. Now, however, it is time to turn our attention to the third pillar: research.
For some time now, the CTS Executive and Research Committee have been exploring a number of issues relating to research. As we did so, it became increasingly clear that it was time to take stock of our research activities, and to take a step back and examine our research program, as well as the state of respiratory research in Canada as a whole. It was time to look at where we are today and set a vision for the future.
To that end, the CTS Executive and Research Committee recently took action. On June 19, we invited a small group of CTS leaders and members with research expertise to a meeting in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The June meeting is a precursor to a second meeting in the fall that will bring together a larger group of stakeholders in view of developing a national research agenda. At the June meeting, we addressed a number of issues.
As we move forward in our efforts to develop a national research agenda, it is vital that we reduce duplication and foster collaboration throughout the national respiratory research community. As a starting point, we need to identify all stakeholders. We will, therefore, seek to partner with the National Lung Health Framework to develop a national database of investigators that would identify not only the researchers, but the nature of their research activities as well. The Framework’s knowledge portal would be an ideal home for this database.
We will also promote the development of partnerships between basic scientists and clinicians, and facilitate connections between researchers, clinicians, networks and research chairs. We will work closely with the Canadian Respiratory Clinical Research Consortium (CRCRC) to reach these goals.
Currently, federal funding allocated to respiratory research does not adequately reflect the burden of respiratory illness care. There is a clear need for us to step up our advocacy efforts to redress this imbalance and secure additional funding for respiratory research in Canada. We will strive to be creative in our fundraising efforts and use any useful models, such as fund matching or bridge funding, and will work closely with our partners to make progress in this vital area.
Data regarding respiratory research has revealed an imbalance between funding allocated to clinical research and basic research, with basic research receiving a much larger portion of available funding. A low level of funding for clinical research puts Canada at risk of losing clinical researchers – particularly young investigators – to other nations.
The CTS will, therefore, take action with a two-pronged approach: it will seek to increase the number of clinical research proposals and will also advocate for an adjustment in funding streams to ensure clinical research receives sufficient funding.
The CTS is committed to working with its partners, such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, to ensure adequate funding is available for both basic and clinical research.
The CTS is currently undergoing a governance review process. As part of the process, it will be vital that research is well integrated into the overall CTS structure and given its due consideration. Research could be further integrated through our national conference – the Canadian Respiratory Conference – an ideal venue for bringing clinicians and researchers together. Furthermore, reporting mechanisms should be in place to ensure that the CTS Executive and Board of Directors, as well The Lung Association Board of Directors, are well informed about research activities and issues, and are positioned to act decisively in those areas.
In addition to addressing the issues outlined above, the June meeting resulted in concrete plans for moving forward:
An Interim Research Steering Committee was formed to shepherd the research renewal process. Shawn Aaron (CRCRC) and Andrew Halayko (CTS Research Committee) agreed to co-chair the Steering Committee for the next six months. Both the CRCRC and the CTS Research Committee will contribute an additional two members to the committee, and the CTS President and the Chair of the Canadian Respiratory Health Professionals Research Committee will serve as ex officio members.
The interim Steering Committee will be responsible for identifying key priority areas for the CTS research program and for planning the national research meeting in November, to which a broader range of key stakeholders will be invited. The national meeting will combine a planning meeting as well as a scientific symposia component. The anticipated outcome of this renewal process is the development of a national respiratory research agenda.
On behalf of the CTS Executive, I thank Drs Aaron and Halayko for taking on the leadership of the research renewal process, as well as Irvin Mayers, the current Chair of the CTS Research Committee. Many thanks as well to the other participants who contributed to the June meeting: Yves Berthiaume, Larry Lands, Rob McFadden, Redwan Moqbel, Denis O’Donnell and Teresa To. I also extend my appreciation to Janet Sutherland, CTS Director, Anne Van Dam, Research Director, and Michelle McEvoy, Research Manager, for their invaluable support.
I am very excited about these developments! I am quite certain that the Steering Committee will succeed in helping us strengthen CTS research programs and develop a robust national research agenda in collaboration with partners and stakeholders from across the country.
A strong research pillar will mean a stronger, more vibrant and successful CTS, which is good news for respiratory health in Canada.