Manulife's partnership with CIFAR is driving groundbreaking research globally four decades on
September 13, 2023
Nearly four decades ago, around Manulife’s 100th anniversary, we made a $500,000 contribution to a new population health research initiative by CIFAR (the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research) – and a partnership began that would endure through decades, with Manulife contributing nearly $3 million in that time.
CIFAR, is a unique organization that was formed in 1982 to facilitate studies bridging disciplines including the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, it was one of the few groups globally prioritizing interdisciplinary studies across borders.
The research initiative that kicked off the relationship “changed the traditional concept of public health to look beyond disease to the social determinants of health,” said Eugene Wen, Manulife’s Vice President of Group Advanced Analytics. “Social development programs now are all rooted in that theory. And it started with CIFAR research with Manulife’s funding support.”
Dr. Wen, a former physician and epidemiologist, has been instrumental in driving the relationship between Manulife and CIFAR since 2016. When an opportunity arose early in the pandemic to support CIFAR’s work related to Canada’s pandemic control and recovery, he was quick to champion it, leading to the creation of the Manulife-CIFAR Population Health and Well-being Grant program, which funded six research projects.
“COVID was the perfect example of why interdisciplinary, global research matters, because no one country could solve this on their own, and no one discipline,” said Leslie McCarley, Vice President for Advancement at CIFAR.
In 2021, Manulife expanded its relationship with CIFAR through the creation of a grant program with a broader focus on population health. Through this, Manulife is now funding seven research projects, prioritizing those that align with our Impact Agenda and our ongoing commitment to sustained health and well-being. These are:
Equitable vaccine production and distribution - Lessons from a global pandemic
Measuring the impact of early-life conditions on chronic disease and healthy aging
Microbiome studies within distinct communities
Environmental determinants of the human milk microbiome
Stable and dynamic home environment predictors of learning engagement and success
Revealing the causal mechanisms of environmental perturbations on gene regulation
The transformation of healthcare: Productivity, performance and labor effects of the adoption of robotics, AI and big data
Through Manulife’s involvement with CIFAR, as results of this research become available, we can use them to make business decisions, share them with others, and follow up with the researchers if needed.
But “we don’t intervene or influence the integrity of any of the research,” Dr. Wen said.
Melissa Melby, professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware, is leading a research project examining the impact of industrialization and other lifestyle factors on the human microbiome – microorganisms that live in and on our bodies – by studying members of the Joti, a group of Venezuelan Amazonian Indigenous people who consume only locally gathered, hunted, and cultivated food. This is one of the projects Manulife is currently funding through our partnership with CIFAR. Prof. Melby has always been fascinated by biological interactions. A desire to better understand the chemical basis for plant-animal interactions, including the effects of medicinal plants on humans, drew her to chemistry, which, in turn, led to studies of the biological and cultural environmental factors influencing human health and thus, to anthropology. Her work spans all these areas. Such interdisciplinary work remains uncommon even today in the scientific realm, but she believes effective solutions to the world’s biggest issues require it. “Problems related to climate change, human interaction with the environment, human health, etc. are not going to be solved solely by medicine, biology, chemistry, anthropology,” she said. Government funding often prioritizes research within disciplines, so “partnerships such as that between Manulife and CIFAR may have greater potential to fund innovative, interdisciplinary approaches.”
Did you know?
In the same year our partnership with CIFAR began, the organization also funded research on Artificial Intelligence championed by Geoffrey Hinton, known to many as the Godfather of AI, with breakthroughs in neural network research that led to the AI revolution today!