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Universities, health authority open medical research centre in Prince George

Centre hopes to improve care for northerners
Samantha Smith, a graduate student at UNBC, will be working at the new research centre in Prince George. (Photo: supplied)

A new medical research centre was launched in northern B.C. as a collaboration between the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), the University of British Columbia (UBC) Faculty of Medicine and Northern Health, announced a joint statement on June 28.

The centre, called the Northern Centre for Clinical Research (NCCR), officially opened March 21 at the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia in Prince George.

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

Dr. Paul Winwood, who has affiliations at both UNBC and UBC, was heavily involved in establishing the centre and will be the chair of its advisory committee.

“The NCCR will enable us to answer clinical research questions from a northern, rural and Indigenous context. There has been very little clinical research done from this point of view,” Winwood said.

There are currently five clinical studies being conducted at the centre looking at virtual health, a topic particularly relevant to people living in the north.

Winwood said he’s been using virtual healthcare for a while in the north, even before the pandemic, but there isn’t a lot of research showing how effective it is in terms of health outcomes.

One study is examining the effectiveness of virtual health to help people with diabetes manage chronic kidney disease. There are higher rates of diabetes among people in the north, Winwood said.

“My hope is that we will be able to ask research questions that are particularly relevant to the health care needs of people in the north, and then in turn we can use new technologies for investigation or new treatments that will benefit them.”

While better treatments are a long-term benefit for people in the north, the NCCR also provides shorter-term benefits.

The designation of an official research centre means scientists can collaborate with other centres provincially, nationally, and even internationally.

“I think that’s huge for people in northern B.C. It means that they can get access to state-of-the-art therapies and investigations that are being researched, whereas now they can’t really, or at least not without travelling,” Winwood said.

There is a possibility satellite centres will be established at other locations across northern B.C. in the future.

“If we are successful, and I sincerely hope and believe we will be, then I think we’re going to see it grow in the coming years but it’s a journey and it needs buy-in and investment and funding and all that,” Winwood said.

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