Collaboration is the future of research, and the future is now

David Litchfield, PhD
Vice Dean, Research and Innovation

Biomedical research is undergoing a considerable transformation with the emergence of revolutionary new technologies, accompanied by a tsunami of new data and information.

Collectively, these advances present unprecedented opportunities to tackle some of the biggest health challenges we face as a global community. However, to capitalize on these transformative new opportunities, it is evident that disciplines need to converge to work together to pursue common aspirations.

Recent developments in areas such as genome editing using CRISPR and related technologies, for example, offer the promise of being able to correct mutations that are responsible for devastating diseases. There are also many applications for this technology beyond biomedical sciences, including food and energy production as well as environmental remediation.

In a similar respect, computational approaches such as artificial intelligence promise to transform diagnostic medicine, and will accelerate efforts to decipher the mechanisms of complex biological processes and the underlying basis of disease.

Within our own research community, research activities are guided by “Optimizing Life-Long Health”, the Strategic Plan for Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. Our priorities include initiatives to promote collaboration and the convergence between disciplines, such as seed funding programs as well as workshops, symposia and other networking activities to foster collaborative research in themes that cross disciplinary boundaries.

External funding agencies are also rapidly evolving to capitalize on the promise of interdisciplinary convergence. Canada’s Tri-Council agencies – CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC – recently launched the New Frontiers in Research Fund to promote high risk, high reward research that extends beyond the traditional disciplinary boundaries of each of the agencies.

Looking to the future, it is clear that the value of our research, and our competitiveness for external funding, will be assessed based on its impact on the needs of our society. Collaboration and a convergence of disciplines is crucial to meet the expectations of the funding agencies, the needs of our community and our own aspirations.