New research centre to foster northern clinical and medical life sciences research

A collaboration between UNBC, UBC Faculty of Medicine and Northern Health, the new Northern Centre for Clinical Research will create more opportunities in the north for clinical and biomedical research.

June 28, 2022
DMS graduate student Samantha Smith
Samantha Smith is a graduate student working with UNBC Division of Medical Sciences/UBC Northern Medical Program faculty member Dr. Kendra Furber.

Joint release with UBC Faculty of Medicine and Northern Health

A new centre is being launched to create more opportunities for clinical and biomedical research in the north and to improve care for northerners. 

Building on existing infrastructure and partnerships, the new Northern Centre for Clinical Research (NCCR) is a collaboration between the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), the University of British Columbia (UBC) Faculty of Medicine, and Northern Health. The centre will be housed at the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia in Prince George with potential future satellite centres across northern B.C.

“Life sciences are vital to the public health-care system as new technology and treatment helps improve people’s lives,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “This new centre will work closely with northern and Indigenous health practitioners, patients and researchers towards a goal of better health outcomes.”

“The partnership between UNBC, UBC and Northern Health to establish this new centre is amazing to see and I applaud everyone for working together to bring clinical health research to the north,” said Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training. “Clinical research is one of the important ways we make advancements in health for people needing care, and it’s also how we support doctors and medical professionals in their training.” 

The NCCR will be focused on enabling clinical trials and research as well as biomedical science that is relevant to northern, remote and Indigenous populations.   

“This new centre will help foster collaborative clinical and medical life sciences research across the north,” says Fraser Bell, Vice President, Planning and Quality, Northern Health, “which we hope will lead to innovations in technologies, processes and practices that reflect rural and Indigenous geographical, social and cultural contexts. 

“The NCCR will also provide more opportunities for northerners to participate in critical health studies such as clinical trials, enhancing health equity for those in the north and firmly embedding research in northern healthcare delivery.” 

Clinical research, which includes both clinical trials and observational studies, helps find new and better ways to prevent, detect, diagnose and treat disease by involving volunteer participants in health research. Clinical trials help find the best options for patient care by studying the safety and effectiveness of new medical interventions, like a drug or medical device. In observational studies, researchers study participants receiving routine medical care to deepen understanding of health and disease and identify opportunities to improve health delivery.

“Clinical research is an important and potentially life-saving care option for many patients,” says Dr. Robert McMaster, Vice-Dean, Research, UBC Faculty of Medicine. “This partnership will help bridge the gap between research and care, creating a much-needed home and support system for clinical research in the north. By bringing more clinical research to northern and Indigenous communities, the NCCR will improve access to innovative medical treatments and accelerate the development of new medical interventions that have tremendous potential to improve health and quality of life.”

The NCCR will provide regional clinicians, academic faculty and other rural health stakeholders, from the north as well as other parts of B.C., with a variety of supports, including assistance with research design, regulatory approvals, and project administration. The centre will also host a Rural Coordination Centre of BC research associate focused on research and evaluation of real time virtual support for clinicians working in rural communities.

“We have a small but well-established group of health researchers in the north who are connected by rural interest and context, and this new centre will provide immeasurable opportunities for collaboration, networking and idea development,” says Dr. Kathy Lewis, interim Vice-President Research and Innovation, UNBC. “The possibilities for dedicated northern clinical research are innumerous and exciting. The NCCR will be responsive to emerging needs and available resources, and will hopefully evolve and grow over time.” 

The new centre will also offer research training opportunities and mentoring for students, healthcare workers, and up-and-coming health investigators.

“The Northern Centre for Clinical Research will enable us to answer clinical research questions from a northern, rural and Indigenous context,” says Dr. Paul Winwood, Assoc. VP, Division of Medical Sciences, UNBC and Regional Assoc. Dean, Northern BC, UBC Faculty of Medicine. “There has been very little clinical research done from this point of view. Through this initiative, the people of northern B.C. will have access to state-of-the-art research in terms of new therapies, investigations, and approaches to health care, including enhanced virtual care.”

The NCCR has been developed as an equal partnership between UNBC, UBC Faculty of Medicine, and Northern Health. It will build on successes in health professions education delivered in partnership in the north including the UBC Northern Medical Program, the UBC Master of Physical Therapy Program – North, and the UNBC School of Nursing. The centre will also engage with healthcare stakeholders, Indigenous communities, and patient partners across the northern B.C. region.