National platform to prepare researchers to lead digital health solutions for older adults

Alex Mihailidis, a U of T professor and UHN researcher, was the principal applicant for a federally funded training platform that aims to accelerate digital health solutions for older adults (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

A federally funded training platform hosted at the University of Toronto will equip students and early career researchers across Canada to accelerate digital health solutions for older adults with complex health needs.

The Early Professionals, Inspired Careers in AgeTech (EPIC-AT) Health Research Training Platform, powered by Canada’s technology and aging network AGE-WELL, is led by researchers from 11 universities and research hospitals across six Canadian provinces

EPIC-AT is being funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, while will provide the platform with $2.4 million over six years, while 41 collaborating institutions will provide more than $6.1 million in cash and almost $4.5 million of in-kind support for graduate students, fellows and newly established scientists.

“This exciting initiative will boost the number of highly qualified future leaders in research, government, industry and community organizations – people who can get digital health solutions more quickly into the hands of older Canadians with complex health needs and their caregivers in home, community and long-term care settings,” said Alex Mihailidis, a professor of occupational science and occupational therapy at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and U of T’s associate vice-president for international partnerships.

The principal applicant for EPIC-AT, Mihailidis is also scientific director and CEO of AGE-WELL, and holds the Barbara G. Stymiest Research Chair in Rehabilitation Technology at KITE Research Institute, University Health Network.

The new platform is an extension of AGE-WELL’s globally leading EPIC training program and will provide one-year fellowships to at least 127 graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and early career researchers at Canadian institutions.

Participants will be equipped to develop, implement and evaluate digital technology solutions across areas such as information and communication technologies, telemedicine, artificial intelligence, sensors, smart environments and wearables. These solutions will help older Canadians age safely, independently and with dignity in the setting of their choice.

“The pandemic has highlighted the potential of digital health solutions– such as the rapid expansion of telehealth – to meet the needs of older adults, as well as the need for further work in this sector,” Mihailidis said.

He welcomed the funding for EPIC-AT and the involvement of so many partners, which include public, not-for-profit and private sector organizations that will support participant salaries, share expertise, host interns, develop online courses and more.

“The time is now for Canada to emerge as a global leader for digital solutions in the AgeTech sector,” Mihailidis said. “Canadians are ready and willing to use digital health innovations, and their wide-scale use would have an immense positive impact on the lives of older adults, their caregivers and on the health-care system.”

Quick facts about EPIC-AT:

  • The call for fellowship applications will open this spring and will include focused calls for BIPOC awards.
  • Successful graduate students and post-doctoral fellows will receive a minimum $8,000 of salary support, while early career researchers will receive a minimum of $10,000.
  • Exceptional internships, mentorship and experiential education opportunities will abound, thanks to wide-ranging partnerships.
  • Stakeholder engagement is key; platform participants will co-create solutions with older adults, caregivers, health professionals and others.     

The 11 researchers and institutions collaborating to lead EPIC-AT are: nominated principal applicant Mihailidis and principal applicants: Nathalie Bier, Université de Montréal; Mohamed-Amine Choukou, University of Manitoba; Shannon Freeman, University of Northern British Columbia; Thomas Hadjistavropoulos, University of Regina; Karen Kobayashi, University of Victoria; Bianca Stern, Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care; Heidi Sveistrup, Bruyère Research Institute; Robyn Tamblyn, McGill University; Grace Warner, Dalhousie University; Azadeh Yadollahi, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-University Health Network.