Spence, Dr. Matt

2003 Alberta Science and Technology Community, Recipient

In 1990, Dr. Matthew Spence was recruited from Dalhousie University to return to his home province and guide the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR) into its second decade. Through his leadership, Dr. Spence has made AHFMR an outstanding example to similar organizations the world over. Under his guidance, the Foundation has expanded beyond its early biomedical focus to push the envelope of health research. AHFMR now funds more than 235 researchers in over a dozen faculties in three Alberta universities. Among Dr. Spence’s initiatives are: research allowances designed to stop the brain drain; a regional training program to develop rural research expertise; and a hands-on summer research experience for Grade 11 students. He forged an ongoing agreement with the Alberta government to support health outcomes research and house a Health Technology Assessment Unit to assess the tools used in health. Dr. Spence’s vision of research as a continuum from bench to the community has inspired an aggressive technology commercialization (TC) program that assists innovators in commercializing viable research results. The Foundation’s TC program has supported a number of successful biotechnology companies. As a result of these initiatives, many outstanding researchers have been attracted to Alberta to do world-class research. They, in turn, have attracted funding from outside the province, helping to build a vibrant health research industry for Alberta. Dr. Spence’s advice is sought after by provincial and international organizations devoted to furthering health research and technology transfer. He helped found the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and serves on the board of the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation. When the Alberta government created the Alberta Foundation for Science and Engineering Research (also called Alberta Ingenuity Fund), Dr. Spence chaired the committee charged with bringing the new Foundation into being – the equivalent of taking on a second full-time job on a volunteer basis. Dr. Spence is a passionate ambassador for health research. He is equally at home encouraging high school students to consider a career in the field or convincing politicians of the benefits of health research as essential to a healthy society and a healthy economy. Three international boards of review have given AHFMR a glowing report card, making Alberta the envy of many provinces and countries around the world. Much of this success is due to Dr. Spence for steering the Foundation on a course of excellence that has put Alberta on the map as a powerhouse in health research