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Strategic Initiatives to Meet Complex Challenges: Our Future Direction

Addressing the Growing Burden of Chronic Disease

Chronic diseases—cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, diabetes, and cancer for example—are a growing burden on our health care system. Moreover, in little more than a quarter century, they have grown to become the leading cause of death worldwide.

Children as young as five years old are now being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, young adults are suffering strokes, and the risk for asthma can begin in the womb. The physical, emotional and human toll is staggering, not just for the affected individuals but for their families, our health systems, and the economy.

A leader in advancing bench-to-bedside-to-community research, McMaster has amassed an enviable corps of outstanding scientists—in genomics, immunology, microbiology, medicine, population health, health policy, and biostatistics—who are characterizing the relationship between disease development and our fundamental biology, genetic make-up, environmental exposures, and social conditions.

Why is one child likely to develop asthma, but not another? Why are some people born with a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease? How does urban living affect our respiratory health? What role do diet, food insecurity, nutrition and exercise play? How do social inequities contribute to the development of chronic disease? How can we change unhealthy behaviours that put people at greater risk? How can we engage with a spectrum of stakeholders from patients to service providers to ensure improved public services for vulnerable and disadvantaged populations? Will higher taxes on cigarettes reduce smoking? How can we do a better job of educating patients, clinicians and policymakers? How can information and communication technologies help patients play a more active role in managing their chronic conditions in a true partnership with their healthcare teams? How can our built and social spaces be designed to be more accessible to all?

Fundamental scientists in our Metabolism and Childhood Obesity Program and Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute are making great strides in understanding the genesis of diseases, like diabetes and leukemia. Our translational scientists, like those in the Farncombe Institute, have deep experience with first-in-human studies, enabling the movement of promising new discoveries. Hospital-based institutes, like the Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health and the Thrombosis and Atherosclerosis Research Institute, bridge the divide between basic discovery and clinical implementation.

Our guidelines development teams in the Cochrane Centre and the Health Information Research Unit are globally sought for their cutting-edge approaches to finding the evidence that defines best clinical practice. Health policy and community-based researchers in the Escarpment Cancer Research Institute and the McMaster Health Forum work with governments and communities to optimize timely access and delivery of health care. And, the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Pain Research and Care is developing new strategies for the treatment and prevention of chronic pain.

Among our greatest strengths in the battle against chronic disease, is our ability to conduct population-level studies through the Population Health Research Institute and the Population Genomics Program that provide definitive proof of health outcomes. Our world-leading cohort studies are central to our understanding of the onset, progression and outcome of chronic diseases. Cohorts such as the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiological Study, and the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development birth cohort, provide priceless data to maximize prevention, treatment and management of the most challenging chronic diseases.