Minister's visit highlights health research

(Edmonton) The Honourable Tim Uppal, minister of state (democratic reform), was at the University of Alberta July 20 to visit with researchers and highlight how federal investments are strengthening health care. Minister Uppal joined other members of the federal government who made similar visits with health researchers across the country.

“Our government is proud to support the outstanding health researchers at the University of Alberta,” he said. “I was delighted to meet these researchers and find out how their work is helping to improve the health of people in Alberta and across Canada.”

Minister Uppal met with Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry researchers Arya Sharma and Geoff Ball, whose work is supported in part by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Sharma, the scientific director of the Canadian Obesity Network, focuses his research on evidence-based approaches to managing obese patients. During the visit, he gave the minister a tour of the Specialized Care Suite, which will open later this fall. The suite is meant to give health-care students experience in dealing with obese patients by working with 350-pound mannequins or a padded weight suit. The weight suit gives students a chance to understand first-hand how challenging it can be for obese people to get dressed, climb stairs or fasten a belt.

“People with obesity issues come into the hospital all the time,” said Sharma. “They come in because of an acute medical problem and need a medical procedure done. It’s important that professionals are trained to look after these patients and understand their needs and sensitivities, because we need to provide the best care we can.”

Geoff Ball, a CIHR new investigator, is examining weight management interventions and obesity-related health services for families and children. He talked to the minister about a newly funded CIHR initiative that will use an iPad survey to educate parents about healthy lifestyle choices for children.

“I think getting feedback from an iPad is more objective and makes it easier for health professionals to talk about weight and health because it moves the issue beyond just someone’s judgment,” said Ball. “And using technology that people are familiar with may be a good way to really engage parents and get the conversation started about weight.”

More than 10,000 health research projects currently underway in Canada receive federal government funding. Recently announced initiatives include funding for a national transplantation research program and funding for “Pathways to Health Equity for Aboriginal Peoples,” in which researchers will work in partnership with Aboriginal communities to carry out programs linked to suicide reduction and other key health priorities.

“The commitment of CIHR to fund high-quality research in the area of obesity prevention and management is commendable,” said Sharma. “The wide range of funded research questions—ranging from fundamental science of nutrient sensing and neurobiology to exercise interventions for schoolchildren and pregnant women—clearly reflects the breadth and depth of obesity research happening across Canada."

“Canadian health researchers across all research disciplines and themes continue to have a significant impact on the country’s international scientific excellence and competitiveness,” said Alain Beaudet, president of CIHR.

“At CIHR, we prize the many achievements and contributions our researchers make to resolving pressing health challenges and to improving the health outcomes of patients and supporting a robust and sustainable health-care system.”

Since 2005–06, the federal government has invested $500 million in health research in Alberta through CIHR.