Carleton Hosts First Life Sciences Day

By Ariel Vered

More than 300 people registered for the first Life Sciences Day: From Technologies to Behaviour to Policy, a day of presentations, panels and student projects held at Carleton University on May 5, 2017.

Science Dean Malcolm Butler welcomed attendees to the event, a representation of Carleton’s strong history of interdisciplinary collaboration and research. Life sciences, he said, spans multiple and diverse faculties and issues.

“Research and application of life sciences is biological to technological, social to political,” said Butler. “It brings together researchers from every faculty, from Science, Engineering and Design, Arts and Social Sciences, Public Affairs, the business school. It impacts every aspect of the world around us, from the environment to our health.

“Our goal here today,” he continued, “is to foster and strengthen the networks and collaborations amongst the different corners of the university and with organizations represented here from the government and private sectors.”

The day’s keynote speaker was Jason Field, president of Life Sciences Ontario, a non-profit group that represents the interests of Ontario’s diverse life sciences community and advocates for a policy environment that fosters the success of its broad scope of members.

Advancing Commercial Success

“Life sciences and biotechnology is a platform by which companies can use technology to advance commercial success,” he says. “Any companies or service providers that do that are in the life sciences space.”

Field, an organic chemist by training who worked in the pharmaceutical industry before entering the world of life science policy, gave a comprehensive talk looking at the life sciences ecosystem through the lens of the interface of science, technology and policy. He discussed the perceptions of the life sciences, technology as a driver of public policy and gaps in public policy.

While Ontario is doing an outstanding job with public policy around promoting education and specifically education in science, he said – the province graduates half the scientists that Canada produces – the transition from academic to industry is difficult and unemployment for new graduates is high in areas of science.

“There is a disconnect between the talent we are producing and where we are investing in terms of growing companies in Ontario,” said Field, referring to the gap between education policy and economic policy.

A misperception by the Ontario government, he noted, is that there is no need to invest in the life sciences from an economic perspective because half of its budget goes to the delivery of public health, even though those are largely administrative costs. Government continues to direct policy toward traditional industries such as automotive, aerospace and natural resources, while knowledge economies are thought of as something that’s going to happen in the future. This is a mistake, said Field.

Life Science is Happening Now

“Life sciences is not an economy of the future,” he said. “Life science is actually happening now. In fact, many opportunities are passing us by because of the lack of investment into the sector to leverage the strengths that we have here in Ontario.”

While changes in government policy don’t happen quickly, there are opportunities for change. The new federal government engaged in extensive consultations with industry professionals that were reflected in the recent budget. As well, Ontario’s new provincial life sciences working group offers opportunity to advance the life sciences sector and develop a strategy.

Following the keynote address, three concurrent sessions on the topics of Changing Contexts for Human Health, Medical Technologies and Big Data, and the Biosphere and Human Well-Being enabled researchers to present on their areas of focus.

The day-long event was also an opportunity for Carleton students to showcase their work in those areas, with 75 posters by undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students presenting their impressive research. The posters were judged by an external committee for cash prizes in each category.

The undergraduate first-place winner was Daniel Lambert, with Ana Santos in second place and Katelyn Hudak in third.

McKenzie Smith took the graduate student first-place prize, with Spencer Manwell in second place and Samantha Hollingshead and Sarah Cuddy in third.