October 19 – An important day for Discovery

As many will know, I have put a lot of emphasis on the need to grow research here at the College of Medicine and in particular, the kind of research that will have a direct impact on the health care of the people of Saskatchewan. I want to emphasize here I recognize and value the crucial (and in Canada almost exclusive) role that universities and medical schools have in discovery and bio-medical research.

My background is of course rooted in clinical care, and I have been frustrated many times by the inefficiencies and barriers to patient-centered care that excellent clinical and health services research may solve.

Furthermore, I am all too aware of the need to demonstrate to our funders the “value-proposition” of a College of Medicine.

So, this is why I have put so much effort into assisting our university, health system, government partners and the Health Quality Council in getting an application completed for the Saskatchewan Center for Patient Oriented Research (SCPOR).

However, emphasis on application alone as public policy is seriously flawed. Basic and applied sciences are on a continuum and are absolutely interdependent.

Since I am a semi-serious music collector (especially Maritime singer song-writers), I am fond of using the following example with my friends to explain the value of basic research. The mathematics that allowed the development of the music compact disc (now itself obsolete), were in fact developed nearly 100 years ago -because a mathematician was following his own curiosity.

If Sony had gone out looking for this, we may still be waiting for the CD.

An example closer to home is the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson, Crick and Wilkens over 60 years ago, and then the subsequent understanding of inheritance and protein production.

This was paralleled by the amazing curiosity-driven research and applied research in computer science that today allows us to do rapid genome sequencing. Modern life abounds with examples of how curiosity-driven research has enriched our communities and our lives.

So sometimes in my daydreams, I have imagined what I would do if I found a magic lamp somewhere in the Saskatchewan countryside…

One of my three wishes would be at least a quadrupling of the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation’s budget. I am sure at least some of you have more interesting fantasy lives!!

However, I realize the principle funder of basic research is our federal government. So in that regard, I have questioned every federal candidate I could about his or her position on science, and the funding of basic research.

I must admit, despite the best efforts of some organizations like Research Canada, this discussion did not get the attention I had hoped.

Of the candidates I talked to however, there were some glimmers of hope. And of course I say this without endorsing any particular political perspective.

But I do hope October 19 is a good day for discovery research in Canada.