23 Aug, 2022
In celebration of CIFAR’s 40th anniversary, take a look back at three key research milestones that have helped improve the lives of people around the world.
In the 1980s, CIFAR researchers introduced the concept of population health, which made waves worldwide. CIFAR’s interdisciplinary team investigated how social, environmental, and economic location all have an effect on your health.
CIFAR researchers established the social determinants of health. The publication, Why are some people healthy and others not?: The determinants of the health of populations, is now a fundamental tenet of health policy, helping to identify and pave ways to healthier lives for millions around the globe.
“The research identified right off the bat that effective clinical prevention was not the primary cause of rising life expectancy,” says Clyde Hertzman in an article on improving the early years of lifelong health.
“Much more important were nutrition, literacy, and other factors associated with socioeconomic change. And that idea was a huge game changer,” added Hertzman, who was a Fellow in CIFAR’s Successful Societies and Experience-based Brain & Biological Development programs.
Social determinants of health is not the only unique research area that CIFAR has helped catapult. For more than a decade, Leah Cowen, co-director of the Fungal Kingdom: Threats & Opportunities (FKG) program, has been watching a deadly pathogen make its way across the world, Candida auris (C. Auris).
Drug-resistant, difficult to diagnose, and targeting people with weakened immune systems, C. Auris spreads via non-invasive medical equipment like blood-pressure cuffs and axillary thermometers to breed and spread. This has caused many hospital and long-term care facility outbreaks and shut downs.
“One problem is that fungi are eukaryotes, which means they’re much more similar to their human hosts than bacteria are,” says Cowen in an article on tackling C. Auris. “Because they share a lot of core essential processes with humans, it’s hard to kill them without producing toxic effects in the patient as well.”
Cowen and her peers in the FKG program are working to better understand C. Auris and other fungi, both beneficial and harmful to human health. Her work in particular, will increase understanding of the genetic makeup of fungi in order to develop anti-fungal drugs that can counteract the effects of C. Auris and other fungal pathogens.
In the last few years, researchers across the globe and across all fields pivoted their work in the fight against COVID-19. At CIFAR, researchers mobilized. One key area of study focused on the long-term consequences of the pandemic, or “long COVID.”
Adrian Owen, Koerner Fellow and co-director of CIFAR’s Brain, Mind & Consciousness program, is making headway in “brain fog” research. In his study of COVID test-positive patients, findings suggest that the subjective experience of “long COVID” relates to a combination of physical symptoms and cognitive deficits.
“We are seeing fairly profound cognitive deficits,” says Owen in a CIFAR Virtual Talks on what makes a healthy brain. “Speed of thinking — how fast you can think through problems — seems to be severely affected, as is reasoning and problem solving, but memory is completely unaffected.”
An array of international public health bodies are following Owen’s work in this emerging field of health research.
CIFAR is grateful to our generous and loyal donors who have supported health and well-being research over several decades, including Manulife, Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc., and Canada Life.
CIFAR is a registered charitable organization supported by the governments of Canada, Alberta and Quebec, as well as foundations, individuals, corporations and Canadian and international partner organizations.