organized curiosity

Improving health care through research


10 Reasons Why I Love Research

Someone suggested that I write a blog on why I love research. You know “10 reasons to love science”. I found this interesting You Tube video and would recommend you take five minutes to watch it for fabulous visuals.

My reasons for loving research may be less exciting and I doubt I will get the 7 million plus views. Regardless, here are my 10 reasons for loving research:

  1. Research makes a difference. Nothing can be as rewarding as the satisfaction of knowing that something you discovered or developed is making a difference in people’s lives. One of my great joys is seeing the reports on specific children who have benefitted from our Strongest Families
  2. Research is challenging. Nature does not give up its secrets easily. Whether it is a basic biomedical secret about the action of a specific messenger in the brain or the best way to help a parent deal with a temper tantrum, the secret is often harder to discover and hard to prove.
  3. Research is competitive. I always tell my students that no one cares if you are the best researcher in a specific discipline in Nova Scotia. It only matters if you are among the best in Canada, or in the world. Getting a grant is competitive. The success rate in national competitions is now around 18% but sometimes much lower. It is hard when you don’t succeed, but great when you win by getting a grant, publishing a paper or spinning off a company.
  4. Research is fun. Science is a lot of work but when the work is complete, you have deserved some fun. Some people might think that researchers are boring nerds. Well some of us may be nerds, but we are certainly not boring. In fact, artistic and musical abilities seem to be more prevalent among scientists than in the general population. I have none of these artistic abilities but I do like to have a good time.
  5. Research stretches your mind. I often have the chance to chat with incredibly intelligent trainees and young scientists. It challenges me to understand what they are doing. Research is moving so fast that you have to work at it to keep up in your own area. It is only possible to get snapshots of what is happening outside your research area.
  6. Research introduces you to such interesting people. I have made friends around the world because of my research. Right now, I have projects underway in Finland and Spain, and collaborators and research-friends in many different countries. Sometimes we are able to connect at research conferences but I don’t get to see them very often.
  7. Research is the future. It is exciting to be part of an adventure that will change what happens next year or in 10 or 15 years’ time. I can see where research that I conducted 10 years ago has contributed to better care now. The study I design today may determine how healthcare is provided in the next few years.
  8. Research involves collaboration across disciplines. As a psychologist, I love working with and learning about new ways of doing things from my colleagues who are working in nursing, medicine and basic science. These interprofessional opportunities make the research experience richer and the outcomes much more valuable.
  9. Partnering with non-researchers is enlightening. While the image of a research scientist working alone in their lab may have been common 100 years ago, these days researchers work across sectors, often with community agencies, patients and government representatives. I love working with my research partners as I learn a lot from them and am able to share my ideas with those outside of my field.
  10. Research is highly regarded. Being a scientist is prestigious. It is easier to enjoy your job if it is thought highly of by others. I am vain enough to be at least a bit influenced by the positive regard of others about my profession.


It would be great to hear from you about why you love research.

~Dr. Patrick McGrath



Hotbed of innovation

I was downtown at the Marriot hotel on the morning of October 25, 2012 when I got an urgent telephone call from Roman Szumski, VP Life Sciences at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).  He told me that the NRC was closing the medical imaging facilities they had within the IWK Health Centre and QEII and were about to tell the staff in 10 minutes. I was gobsmacked even though the NRC had already made the decision to close the imaging groups in Winnipeg and Calgary. At that time, the president of NRC had told me we had about 3 years to adjust and I believed him.  Now I was told the lab would close in less than 6 months. I was courteous to the VP but I won’t tell you what I said when I got off the phone!

The NRC had signalled that they would not support labs in areas that did not have significant Canadian companies affiliated with them and they felt that imaging was one of those areas as the companies are mostly dominated by huge multinationals such as GE Healthcare, Phillips and Siemens. However, they were not thinking of the broader impact imaging has on research including those in the medical technology field and pharmaceutical companies.  Imaging is a key component in bringing these types of products to market.

I knew the NRC Lab, which was called the NRC Institute for Biodiagnostics (Atlantic) (NRC-IBD (Atlantic) was doing excellent work in: supporting academic research; assisting companies (both small and medium sized local companies and large multinationals); and doing research themselves. At the IWK, there was a preclinical lab with MRI and PET/CT.  It worked with researchers and small companies doing the research needed to validate their treatments and technologies. There was also a MEG Lab which housed Canada’s most advanced Magnetoencephalography (MEG) system which measures extremely tiny magnetic fields produced by electrical currents in the brain. This powerful non-invasive technology provides vital motor and sensory information in children and adults prior to neurosurgery. At QEII, there was a high-field clinical research Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and EEG suite that was also used to conduct neuroscience research leading to innovation.

I didn’t know what to do. Should I just let the NRC close IBD (Atlantic)? This would result in a loss of almost all medical imaging research in Halifax and would have a negative impact on the life sciences community as a whole. We had to act fast or key staff would leave. The NRC had closed imaging groups in Calgary and in Winnipeg and the very highly trained scientists and technicians left quickly.  But I had no money to pay staff. What the heck was I going to do?

Against all common sense, I decided we had to save the imaging group. Although, I didn’t know how we were going to fund it. I knew bake sales would not work!

I had a secret weapon that would ultimately be critical. The secret weapon was the entire staff and particularly the leadership of the IBD (Atlantic). Dr. Steven Beyea and Denise Lalanne are the dynamic duo in the lead.  Steven is a medical physicist, trained at University of New Brunswick and had been at IBD (Atlantic) for 10 years.  Denise has a business degree from Dalhousie University and an arts degree in Psychology from St. Mary’s University and had been at IBD for 6 years. They wanted to make it work. Steven does the science and Denise does the business. I always thought they were quiet, determined and amazingly effective.

 Steven and Denise

Dr. Steven Beyea and Denise Lalanne

Together, we quickly got the key stakeholders in a meeting from industry, academia, and government to discuss the future.  My desire to save this expertise and infrastructure was unanimously supported by the community. Now, we had to find money to fund it!

With a business plan in hand, we went to industry to ensure that the companies wanted to continue working with the labs; we went to university and hospital departments; we went to researchers who were using the lab for contributions; and we went to the Nova Scotia government, through the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism and the Health Research Foundation for the balance. Actually when I say “we”, I mean Steven and Denise. I don’t do any work, I just go to meetings.

We got enough support to save the imaging group for two years.

So what has happened since then?  What has been happening during BIOTIC’s first year of operations.  Well, lots actually…

  • The group formerly known as NRC-IBD (Atlantic) has become BIOTIC and has a focussed mission to create and contribute to next-generation healthcare advances through R&D and commercialization of medical technology.
  • BioNova, the Nova Scotia life sciences industry association named the rescue of NRC-IBD (Atlantic), the story of the year.
  • BIOTIC has helped attract companies to start research in Nova Scotia, partly due to the unique combination of experience and infrastructure at BIOTIC.
  • The team has worked with 16 companies to move their technologies closer to market.
  • BIOTIC recently awarded a $3M financial contribution through the Atlantic Innovation Fund for a $7.6M project to develop “pushbutton” MRI diagnostics in collaboration with one of the largest companies in the world.
  • The QEII Foundation recently raised $2.9 million for a new high-field whole-body MRI that will be shared 50/50 research and clinical.
  • The group also acquired a preclinical SPECT to assist companies validate their technologies.
  • The BIOTIC team has trained more than 80 students this past year.
  • Foreign Direct Investment is being attracted to the province through various R&D collaborations with companies outside the province.
  • We hosted over 500 people from over 30 countries this summer to attend Biomag 2014, which provided us the opportunity to highlight the world-class R&D, develop new collaborations, and showcase our wonderful province.

The future of BIOTIC looks bright. They are an outstanding example of research entrepreneurship within the health system. They are fulfilling what Ray Ivany’s NOW or Never Report said we need to do. BIOTIC is improving health care by making new discoveries and facilitating others in our community to make new discoveries. At the same time, they are improving the economy of Nova Scotia. They are also providing great training for students here in Nova Scotia and creating new positions for highly qualified personnel, so our students do not have to go elsewhere to get a rewarding career.  We need more BIOTICs!!

~Dr. Patrick McGrath