Canadian public investment in medical imaging R&D pays off, study finds

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Public investment in university-based medical imaging research results in better quality of life and a significant return on investment, according to a study conducted by RTI International.

The study analyzed the social value of public investment in medical imaging research at four Canadian universities.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funded the study in response to policy commitments in the Government of Canada’s Science and Technology Strategy to measure and report on the impact of science and technology expenditures.

One of the main research findings was that the annual rate of return to Canadian society was estimated to be at least 28 percent for a $45 million portfolio of investments made between 2000 and 2011.  Costs were compared with the economic benefits of accelerating technological progress and the impact of medical research on policy and practice. 

“Our research showed that without CFI and CIHR funding, the overall level of medical imaging research performed in Canada would be lower,” said Alan C. O’Connor, a senior economist at RTI and the lead author of the study. 

The study examined outcomes resulting from investments in facilities, equipment, and research programs made by the CFI, CIHR, and provincial governments to four universities: McGill University, University of British Columbia, University of Toronto, and Western University. These universities received some of the earliest medical imaging investments the CFI and CIHR made after their creation in 1997 and 2000, respectively. 

“The study highlights the importance of an open and competitive research system to move innovation along the continuum from new ideas, to working prototypes, to products that benefit Canadians,” said Gilles Patry, President and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation. 

“A recurring theme running throughout our interviews with the imaging research community was that in the absence of CFI and CIHR support, many of the leading imaging researchers would likely have left Canada for positions abroad, or would not have come to Canada in the first place,” O'Connor said. “Given the importance of imaging to the innovation economy, this suggests that without the sustained public investments, Canada might not enjoy the competitive advantage it now has in imaging technologies.”

One technology accelerated by public support was computed tomography perfusion. CT perfusion is an imaging study that can assist physicians in assessing stroke when victims arrive in emergency rooms. CFI and CIHR funding supported its development by Western University’s Ting Lee. CT perfusion is now used in hospitals worldwide.

“This case emphasizes the profound effect that public support for health research has on health outcomes for patients and their families,” said Dr. Alain Beaudet, President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Other publicly-funded research reviewed in the study included:  

  • Martin Yaffe and his team of researchers at Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto  who developed digital mammography technology to produce more accurate and efficient breast cancer detection tools, 
  • Matthew Farrer,  Jon Stoessl, and Vesna Sossi of the University of British Columbia who are advancing Parkinson’s research, and 
  • McGill University’s imaging methods and analysis tools that have advanced the state-of-the-art in data capture, processing, analysis, and interpretation, including work by Louis Collins, Alan Evans, and Bruce Pike and their collaborators. 

O’Connor emphasized that the return on investment results are conservative. “There are other advances in development or commercialization for which benefits were not quantified. Imaging research can have a time horizon of 10 years or more before commercialization and clinical application because of the need for extensive testing, validation and clinical trials.”

The study examined $387 million in funding to the four universities, and abstracted a $45 million portfolio from that funding for in-depth economic analysis. The return on investment was conservatively estimated by comparing the benefits from one technology, CT perfusion, with the investment costs for it as well as a host of technologies and health research findings.



  • A new study conducted by RTI finds public investment in university-based medical imaging research results in better quality of life and a significant return on investment
  • The study analyzed the social value of public investment in medical imaging research at four Canadian universities