Vincent Bowman is Director, Research, Ontario Heart and Stroke Foundation
Our mission is to create healthy lives free of heart disease and stroke. That includes initiatives in… research, advocacy, and health promotion. Of these three elements, research is both the foundation’s largest, and its longest-standing investment.
How do universities fit into the overall research picture for your foundation?
Scientists who work primarily within the university setting collaborate with practitioners at hospitals, hospital research institutes, and community stakeholders. It’s important to maintain this balance and recognize that there is a contribution to be made by all pillars of the research community.
Those collaborations really are a strength, allowing the science to benefit from a university atmosphere with connections to the front lines of health care.
Ontario is fortunate to have many of Canada’s research leaders within Ontario’s universities.
Certainly in the cardiovascular area, we have a very robust research community in Ontario. We have concentrated expertise in the basic sciences and clinical research, and we are growing our expertise in health services as well as systems research and population health. That has not traditionally been considered the bulk of research focus within the province, but I see pockets of it developing and quite substantial leadership growing in these areas.
I have worked with university researchers for most of my 20-year career in the not-for-profit sector. What has really stood out for me is the dedication, the innovative approaches, the spirit of collegiality and information sharing that I’ve observed in the researchers I’ve worked with. That speaks to the character of the researchers and their approaches to their work.
The other thing I see as a result of my role, is that many of Canada’s top researchers also serve as scientific advisors to charities. They are spokespeople, members of peer review panels, and many of them are fundraising volunteers. There are really deep and ongoing connections between university researchers and the not-for-profit health sector.
It speaks to a value add that people may not think about in terms of community service and support. The not-for-profit sector absolutely relies on that senior leadership, volunteerism and advice.
I see two key areas in which I expect we will see progress of the next 18 years.
The first is in the prevention of heart disease and stroke. We already have a lot of knowledge on modifiable risk factors for heart disease and stroke. What we have less information on is effective interventions at the individual and societal levels to create a healthier society.
How do we influence public policy? How do we influence individual behavior and decision-making around healthy living? What implications does it have for our social and economic environment?
There’s a significant amount of additional research and understanding needed in terms of how to turn what we already know into tangible benefits for the Canadian population. It has links to health promotion, to advocacy and policy developments, environmental standards, the built environment and a whole series of areas where we need to better understand how to influence change.
The second area is in treatment. I’m thinking particularly about the advancement of personalized medicine. We have rapidly increasing knowledge of the complex interactions between genetics and the environment. The opportunity is in treating heart disease or stroke patients with treatments that are personalized to their unique circumstances to optimize effectiveness. It’s more sophisticated, taking into account personal circumstances of genetic, environmental and social factors.
If you can imagine, we’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg. There is great potential for our understanding in this area to explode. I really feel there’s a lot of opportunity.