Tiana ViscontiMaster’s student Tiana Visconti explores breast cancer treatment in the lab of WE-Spark Health Institute executive director Lisa Porter.

Regional health institute marks three-year milestone as one-of-a-kind Windsor-Essex innovation

Windsor-Essex healthcare and academic institutions are marking three years since they joined using a one-of-a-kind model designed to elevate health research excellence — an innovative model that has proven to deliver exceptional results.

WE-Spark Health Institute is an official partnership of the University of Windsor, Erie Shores HealthCare, Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, St. Clair College, and Windsor Regional Hospital, governed by a Board of Trustees made up of the CEOs of the respective organizations. Its six committees include representatives from across all partner organizations who inform, direct, and implement the institute’s strategic priorities of

  • organizational effectiveness,
  • research excellence,
  • community engagement,
  • knowledge translation, and
  • building capacity.

The seeds of the institute began about 13 years ago as a grassroots effort among health researchers and healthcare professionals across the Windsor-Essex region, and after years of planning and consultations, officially launched on March 9, 2020, during a celebration and signing of a Memorandum of Understanding at the Windsor Club.

In the span of the three years since its launch, WE-Spark can boast a number of accomplishments. Local health researchers have attracted almost $40 million in external funding to the region, included local patients in clinical trials, engaged in almost 700 collaborations, and provided training opportunities for more than 1,200 University of Windsor and St. Clair College students on research projects. Through the WE-Spark grants program, 67 local grants have been awarded totalling over $1.1 million. The institute holds regular think tanks, conferences, and town hall meetings, and publishes newsletters and quarterly and annual impact reports for its stakeholders and the Windsor-Essex community.

Lisa Porter, a cancer researcher and distinguished professor at the University of Windsor, is WE-Spark’s executive director, and the visionary behind the institute. Day-to-day operations are run by assistant director Karen Metcalfe along with a lean but mighty staff.

“Health research has far-reaching benefits,” says Dr. Porter. “It creates an academic culture that attracts and retains the best and brightest in healthcare, keeps our professionals current, supports the best learning experience for students, empowers and educates the community, delivers new therapies, brings in new infrastructure, provides answers to healthcare problems unique to our region, and aids in rapid adoption of the best prevention and care practices.

“And data shows that patients treated in institutions that conduct medical research live longer. This is not an advantage that can be reserved for those living only in larger cities: we need and deserve that here in Windsor-Essex.”

On April 20, WE-Spark will host its Cheers to Hope event to raise funds for local health research and celebrate the progress to date.

“We believe that together we can transform health and care of people here in our region,” concludes Porter.

For more information, visit: www.cheerstohope.ca.

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