Building Research Capacity Addresses Growing Burden of Disease

Research associate Courtney Heisler with director of research for the division, Dr. Jennifer Jones
Research associate Courtney Heisler with director of research for the division, Dr. Jennifer Jones.

It’s a small division with a big mandate.

Researchers in the Division of Digestive Care & Endoscopy are leading and taking part in a wide range of local, national and international studies to improve outcomes for patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), fatty liver disease and colon cancer. This research is imperative, given that Nova Scotia has among the highest rates of these diseases not just in Canada, but in the world.

“These three diseases place an enormous burden on individuals, families, the health care system, and society as a whole in Nova Scotia,” says the division’s director of research, Dr. Jennifer Jones, NSHA staff gastroenterologist and associate professor at Dalhousie Medical School. “Over the past few years, we’ve been building capacity for investigator-initiated research that will provide evidence to guide us in tackling the challenges we face in treating and delivering health care for these chronic gastrointestinal diseases.”

In addition to recruiting Dr. Jones back to Nova Scotia from Saskatchewan—with a specific mandate to grow this type of research—the Division of Digestive Care & Endoscopy has hired a full-time research associate and research assistant, secured local and national funding, and started building a comprehensive research database with help from NSHA’s Research Methods Unit.

“After building a solid research infrastructure, we’re expanding our research efforts, attracting more learners, and developing new collaborations,” says Dr. Jones.

Research in the division runs the gamut from national longitudinal population studies, to local health services and quality assurance studies, to international clinical trials. In fact, the division has a global reputation for its success in recruiting participants to clinical trials.

Local funding from the NSHA Research Fund and QEII Foundation Translating Research into Care (TRIC) grant programs has enabled researchers in the division to launch proof-of-principle studies that have allowed them to secure catalyst funding and multi-year grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and other funding agencies.

“A lot of our patients are dealing with chronic digestive disorders that significantly impair quality of life and, in some cases, cause premature death,” notes Dr. Jones. “The work we’re doing to establish cost-effective, evidence-based, patient-centred health care delivery models will help our patients dramatically. It can also be applied to other chronic diseases, so we’re creating a template our colleagues in other divisions could adapt to meet their patients’ needs.”