Alberta medical researchers worried about funding cuts
Does continuing oil slump mean the end of three decades of innovative work?
Medical researchers funded by Alberta Innovates Health Solutions are concerned the province's deepening financial troubles could spell the end of three decades of world-renowned medical research.
"My great fear is that it will just fade into the background, and the two great medical research centres that we've built in Edmonton and Calgary will be vulnerable to cherry picking by all the other fine institutions across the globe," said Colmers, who sites the progress made in treatment of hepatitis and diabetes as just some of the work done through the AIHS.
"It's been a whole spectrum of research from molecules right down to society, in terms of making the health of Albertans better."
Colmers said he is concerned that medical research is a much lower spending priority compared to direct health care and education.
"If we lose this, it's never going to come back," he said. "Nobody's going to champion that kind of a radical idea again."
AIHS was established in 2010 as one of four separate research agencies under the newly created Alberta Innovates corporation.
Previously known as the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR), the endowment fund was established by former premier Peter Lougheed in 1980 to promote far reaching innovation and expertise.
Budget consultations are currently underway to determine how dwindling resources will be apportioned in the next Alberta budget, expected in March 2016.
Tim Wilson, a spokesman for Alberta Health, said no decision has been made on how AIHS will be shaped in future.
"As part of the agencies, boards and commissions review, we are looking at how we can improve Alberta Innovates corporations and ensure value for Albertans," he said.
Colmers said an organization such as AIHS no longer has a "political champion" to fight for its existence. Former head of AIHS, prominent surgeon and innovator Dr. Cy Frank, died in March, leaving a leadership void in the organization, and questions about its future.
"When he died suddenly it left everybody in a bit of a vacuum," said Colmers.
"The institution was in transition and had difficulty being able to move itself forward confidently, which it should have been able to do, and had planned to do under the direction of Dr. Frank," he said.
An interim CEO has led AIHS since Frank's death. The board of directors, whose term was to expire at the end of this year, has been extended another three months.
Dwayne Brunner, spokesman for AIHS, said for now it's "business as usual," though he acknowledged there is a lot of speculation and rumour about the future of the organization.
"We're just proceeding as though nothing is going to change," he said.
In the most recent provincial budget, AIHS received $70 million from the Alberta government.