Enhancing quality of life: health and well-being

Laora Gangregorio

Health and well-being is an area of research that increasingly leads to the development of life-changing technologies with significant impact on individuals and communities.

The University of Waterloo is a global leader in advanced research on chronic disease prevention and management, healthy active aging, youth health, public health policy and practice, nutrition, and human
movement, all of which lead to the development of strategies that improve well-being.

The Schools of Pharmacy and Optometry & Vision Science in the Faculty of Science are active in clinical healthcare practice research as well as ocular disease prevention. Interdisciplinary areas of research include fundamental molecular, genetic, and biophysical research of disease states, and the development of biomedical imaging techniques. At the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, a unique partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society, solution-oriented programs of research, knowledge exchange, and capacity-building are strengthening communities through international tobacco control policies, digital applications for smoking cessation, and improving the health of Canadian youth through nationwide data collection and analysis.

Improving diagnostic procedures and drug design

Mathematics and engineering research also focuses on health and well-being. Biostatistical methods play a critical role in the design and analysis of studies of risk factors for disease, disease progression, and the
affects of therapeutic interventions. Breakthroughs in bioinformatics are improving medical diagnostic procedures and drug design, while computational research findings in artificial intelligence are being used to deliver personalized care for medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Biomedical engineering is one of the fastest growing research areas at Waterloo, resulting in the establishment of the Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology embedded in the Faculties of Engineering and Science. Biomedical engineering research spans conceptual development and design through clinical-grade prototyping and evaluation, requiring extensive engagement with potential end-users in the healthcare system, as well as the high-tech and manufacturing sectors to ensure clear commercialization pathways. Waterloo researchers are also developing new and improved technologies for the controlled and targeted release of therapeutic agents, including viral and non-viral drug and gene delivery systems, as well as lab-on-a-chip technologies, micro- and nano-biomedical sensors, and new and improved processes for the development of biopharmaceuticals and vaccines. In addition, advances in sensor technologies and information processing will lead to highly accurate and non-invasive diagnostic and screening instruments.

Finding solutions to health system challenges

Researchers in the School of Public Health and Health Systems are helping to improve the quality of health services for vulnerable populations, including the frail and elderly. This includes interRAI Canada’s clinical assessment tools that evaluate and respond to the strengths, preferences, and needs of more than a million Canadians. The Geriatric Health Systems Research Group works with health system partners and seniors to understand and find solutions to health system challenges that affect the quality of life for older persons.

Enhancing care for older adults

The translation of research to improve the health of Canadians is a key focus at Waterloo. The Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging, based in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, enhances the care of older adults through the development and implementation of innovative research and training programs.

A unique collaboration with the Royal Bank of Canada has established the RBC Retirement Research Centre to empower people to understand and prepare for physical, psychological, and financial well-being in retirement. The Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Program integrates research and education to enhance dementia care practices in Canada.

The provision of clean and reliable sources of water for human consumption is also a research focus at Waterloo. Research in the Faculty of Science includes water quality assessment, environmental toxicology,
identification of contaminant sources and mitigation measures, as well as the use of stable isotopes to trace contaminant migration and biogeochemical cycles.