Imagine this: 100 years ago a diagnosis of diabetes carried a short life expectancy; a sentence of impending death (children survived less than a year from diagnosis, adults less than 4 years); 50 years ago doctors in Manitoba performed the first pancreas transplant; and 25 years ago the landmark “Diabetes Control and Complications Trial” changed fundamental thinking on management of diabetes. Banting and Best discovered insulin in 1923. From urine “dip tests” in the 1940s to the first glucose meters in 1970 and HbA1C testing in 1976; everyone understands that research and innovation drove these major milestones in diabetes diagnosis, care and patient outcomes.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see how diagnostics played a critical role in advancing the research done by Frederick Banting and others. But what about today? Is research a luxury? A perk that comes at the expense of our everyday, critical operations? The reality is that more than 60 per cent of all medical research relies on diagnostics support. Without research and innovation we will not advance healthcare – it is not a luxury or a perk, its an essential component of our commitment to quality. That’s why DSM and its Board of Directors have made Research and Innovation a major strategic priority.
“We’re at the forefront, on the ground floor, so to speak,” said Jim Slater, CEO. “DSM already provides the diagnostic tests that researchers rely on, so developing a Research and Innovation Strategy to guide our investments and activities just makes good sense. DSM is a unique, provincial healthcare organization that is attracting attention from funders and investors, recognizing us for our potential to support research and innovation.”
Research and innovation is not new to DSM. Researchers have always approached us for assistance with projects. Likewise, our own scientific and medical staff have research projects and participate in collaborative research studies. Did you know that DSM has, on average, over 400 active research and innovation projects every year?
In the past, these projects were not guided by any organizational strategy. Until recently, DSM participation in research was not standardized across sites and there were no real processes to support participation. Often procedures and pricing were inconsistent and there was limited financial support and monitoring of demand for our services.
Future Driven by Vision and a Coordinated Approach
DSM’s new Research and Innovation Strategy is intended to change that historic approach by building a system that supports research and innovation projects that are relevant to DSM; creating research and innovation opportunities for DSM staff; collaborating with other organizations; and leveraging DSM resources and expertise in support of appropriate and relevant research programs.
“Without a strong vision for research and innovation, and the lack of a coordinated approach, DSM was actually hindering research and innovation in some respects,” said Jim. “Yet, we know that research and innovation are key ingredients in any quality program and in building a sustainable health system.”
Quality in diagnostics means building truly accessible, appropriate, and sustainable services, which makes research and innovation necessary and critical ingredients. But the point is not to be controlling or restrictive, but rather to ensure DSM is supporting and encouraging research and innovation to the best of our capacity. To that end, a DSM Research Advisory Committee, which is currently being established, will help provide direction and guidance.
“Research and innovation help us improve,” said Jim. “They create better diagnostic tests and procedures, and as we know from the history of diabetes, better diagnostics lead to improved health outcomes. Our goal is to make it easier for researchers to access DSM support while also making sure that our primary raison d’etre – patient care – is not compromised.”
Streamlining Process to Improve Researcher Access
That’s where DSM’s new Research Support Office (RSO) fits in. While research support previously existed (e.g. St. Boniface Hospital Laboratory), its new mandate has been expanded to include all of DSM’s sites and diagnostic imaging.
“We are here to support internal and external researchers and to help facilitate their research needs, streamline the process and keep research in Manitoba,” said Laura Curtis, DSM’s Research Specialist. “But the RSO is not just for researchers. It’s also for DSM staff so that they know operational needs are being considered as well.”
The goal of the RSO is not to determine “if” a study can be accommodated, but to figure out the best way for DSM to support it without negatively impacting clinical work.
In conjunction with DSM medical staff, managers and directors, the RSO will conduct an impact assessment of all the research requests DSM receives. This will help to determine, for instance, the feasibility of requested timelines. The RSO also ensures funding sources are in place and determines in advance if there are any special considerations that need to be taken into account.
The RSO is meant to simplify and streamline the process of accessing DSM services for research. This demonstrates our strength as a collaborative partner and leader in health care. Partnership, in fact, is another key element of the Research and Innovation Strategy.
“You can’t put a price tag on the benefits of creating a supportive culture and positive reputation,” said Jim. “We aren’t providing diagnostic services in a vacuum, but alongside other stakeholders who provide patient care and have a vested interest in research and its outcomes.”
Supporting Research with Grants, Opportunity for Students and Research Resources
As part of the Research and Innovation Strategy, DSM has also increased and expanded our Research Grant program in an effort to better support translational research and innovation projects while also encouraging and strengthening partnerships and building a research culture from within DSM.
“We have significantly enhanced DSM’s Research Grant program,” said Dr. Yvonne Myal, a professor in the University of Manitoba’s Department of Pathology, who also oversees the grant program. “Not only have we increased the number of grants overall, but we have introduced different levels of grants to accommodate different kinds of research and innovation projects and a longer timeframe for completion of projects.”
The grant program will also be seeking to encourage future generations by providing students with an opportunity to participate in research endeavors. DSM’s Summer Studentship Program is being offered for the first time this summer. This program provides an opportunity for select students to mentor with physicians and scientists on their translational research and innovation projects.
DSM has also been involved in the development of a proposal to establish a Provincial Biobank in Manitoba, which will further enable research in Manitoba, whether it is being done by DSM staff or our many partners. “As the provincial leader in diagnostic services provider, DSM is well-positioned to coordinate a Provincial Biobank,” said Jim. “This will remove barriers for researchers and create efficiencies that enable researchers to focus their time and effort where it is needed rather than on developing and maintaining independent biobanks for their projects.”
Whether it is DSM-inspired translational research, clinical trials with partners, or even contract research with pharmaceutical companies, the vision behind DSM’s Research and Innovation Strategy is to become self-sustaining. Research and innovation can generate revenue and savings that can be reinvested into operational needs such as education and training for staff or into other innovation efforts to make health system improvements.
“Research is necessary to create major medical breakthroughs, but even small steps toward better health outcomes are important,” said Jim. “DSM’s involvement in research also creates opportunities that directly benefit DSM operations, staff, and patients. It’s a win-win situation for Manitobans, health care and DSM.”