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Improving Ontario’s Health & Economy through Investments in Science – An Interview with Dr. Dawn Bowdish

This year, Dr. Dawn Bowdish’s research team at the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research was mentioned in the 2018 Ontario budget as an example of how investments in scientific research contribute to improved economic growth and provincial prosperity. We sat down with Dawn to talk more about scientific research as a fundamental driver of technological innovation and economic advancement in Ontario, and how such investments have helped her research team make greater strides towards reducing the global burden of pneumonia.

In 2014, you received the Early Researcher Award from the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science. Can you tell me more about this award, and how it has helped support your lab’s research efforts? 

The Early Researcher Award from the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science is an award given to people early in their career to help them expand their research team by bringing on and supporting trainees. As a recipient in 2014, I was able to expand my team by taking on new graduate students for my research project, which focuses on understanding how the immune system changes with age and puts older adults at a higher risk of getting pneumonia. Through this funding avenue, I’ve had six graduate student trainees come through the lab, all of whom are looking at one aspect or another of how the aging immune system causes pneumonia and how having pneumonia in mid- to late-life can accelerate other chronic diseases.

How has this funding helped you contribute to economic growth in Ontario?

The ability to expand my lab allows me to help create highly qualified people who are equipped to take on the jobs of the 21st century. In this way, science funding is not just a major driver of scientific discoveries themselves – the improvements in health that we are trying to make – but is also an important economic driver as it helps us create the next generation of young researchers.

Why would the Ontario government be interested in the type of research done at your lab?

Ontario is experiencing a much greater rate of demographic change in comparison to other provinces. Consequently, all the blessings and challenges that come with an aging population are going to be felt more strongly in our province. Ontario currently has a mandate to keep older adults in the workforce and community for longer, as older adults greatly contribute to economic productivity, are important aspects of the volunteering community, and are valuable to many other aspects of economic growth. However, although more and more older adults are planning to work for longer, many have to stop working earlier than intended due to health issues or because they have to care for an older adult with health issues. If we prevent or reduce the severity of lung disease in older adults, they can participate in the workforce longer, and the cost of caregiving could decrease significantly. Our research presents the valuable opportunity to help reduce this burden.

How has science funding helped benefit the IIDR as a whole?

The IIDR is a powerhouse for trainees. In my lab alone, I’ve trained over 40 students. Collectively, our IIDR members have trained over 1,600 scholars, who have gone on to secure positions in various science, teaching, policy, and health-related fields. As such, funding has been a major and vital component of their ongoing success. Continued financial support from provincial and federal sources will allow us to further contribute to Ontario’s strong economy and will allow us to continue benefiting the lives of Canadians and the global community alike.

Biography

Dr. Dawn Bowdish is an Associate Professor within McMaster University’s Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and is a member of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research and McMaster Immunology Research Centre. Dawn holds a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Aging & Immunity and investigates how changes in the immune system of older adults and vulnerable populations predispose them to pneumonia. For her outstanding work in research and discovery, Dawn recently received the title of University Scholar, which recognizes mid-career faculty who have already distinguished themselves as international scholars.

Visit Dawn Bowdish’s Lab Website here.