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Cancer Research: Brain drain?

It's a dreaded disease that has afflicted humans for centuries. In recent decades, scientists around the world have been tirelessly searching for a cancer cure. Canadians are no exception. Amid constant fights for funding, concerns about "brain drain" and controversies over alternative therapies, Canada has made some vital breakthroughs in cancer research — from the invention of the "cobalt bomb" in the 1950s to the more recent innovations of cancer research icon Tak Mak.

Is Canadian cancer research in trouble? It's 1974, and great inroads are being made in cancer research across Canada - from Montreal's recently discovered blood test for diagnosing certain cancers, to new radiation techniques being developed in British Columbia. But Canadian research is underfunded. Good researchers are moving to the United States every day. "Unless more emphasis is given to research, we could become a nation of medical parasites; using discoveries made in other countries, but contributing little ourselves," concludes reporter Larry Stout in this 1974 CBC Television clip. 
. In the decades since the 1970s, the idea of a "brain drain" of Canadian scientists to the United States has been much lamented in the media. It has been a problem with most scientific disciplines, and cancer research is no exception. The brain drain is generally blamed on not enough government funding for research.

. A 1997 Winnipeg Free Press article on the subject cited Dr. Robert Matusik as just one example. The leading prostate cancer researcher left Manitoba for Nashville, Tennessee's Vanderbilt University in 1995. "I actively looked for ways to stay but research funding is so low in Canada, it's ludicrous," he said. In the Nashville, his five-year research grant was set at about $200,000 US per year. In Canada, a typical grant would be $65,000 per year for three years, Matusik explained.

. Although the trend seems to continue, it hasn't gone completely unnoticed by federal and provincial governments. In 2000, the Ontario government announced a plan specifically designed to help stem the brain drain among cancer researchers. The Ontario Cancer Research Network was given $50 million over three years. "This funding will double Ontario's overall capacity to conduct clinical research, especially in the areas of breast and prostate cancer," said Finance Minister Ernie Eves in a 2000 Toronto Star article.

. Some articles in recent years have claimed the brain drain in general is being blown out of proportion. A 1999 Globe and Mail article cited a Statistics Canada report that showed researchers could find "little statistical evidence in support of a large-scale exodus of knowledge workers from Canada to the U.S." The Globe article points to David Kaplan as an example of the reverse brain drain - the acclaimed cancer specialist left the United States to come work in Canada in 1996.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: April 9, 1974
Guest(s): Phillip Gold, Harold Johns, James Till
Reporter: Larry Stout
Duration: 3:39

Last updated: March 22, 2012

Page consulted on December 5, 2013

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