What is ICES Western? Q&A with Dr. Amit Garg

As ICES Western recruits a new Site Director, Dr. Amit Garg, who currently holds the position, sat down to talk about the importance of the work being done. Dr. Garg is also a Scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute, Nephrologist at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) and Professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

What is your role with ICES Western?

Starting in 2009, I supervised the team responsible for the ICES Western build over an approximately three-year period. Since then, I have spent the last decade serving as the inaugural Site Director for ICES Western. 

Can you briefly describe the work that ICES Western does?

For those people who don't know, ICES is a province-wide non-profit research institute, founded in 1992, that is focused on translating data into trusted evidence. Our community is comprised of world-class research, data and clinical experts who evaluate health care delivery and population outcomes. 

ICES scientists and staff (currently about 570 in Ontario) and trainees (currently about 700) access a vast and secure array of Ontario’s demographic and administrative health-related data. ICES currently has 108 linked data holdings (with over one trillion data points), and the amount of data that ICES has available for use in research grows each year. The linked data include vital statistics, hospital services, physician claims, drug benefits, laboratory results, biosamples and immigration records. Our research, including 1,200 active investigator-initiated projects, is focused on making health policy and health care better, and people healthier.  

ICES Western is physically located at LHSC’s Victoria Hospital and is one of seven ICES satellite sites across Ontario. The site’s development is an ongoing partnership between LHSC, St. Joseph’s Health Care London, Lawson, the Academic Medical Organization of Southwestern Ontario (AMOSO) and Western. 

How does ICES’ work impact research being done in Ontario and across Canada?

ICES Western is a core facility that researchers use for research, training and decision support. Organizations such as our local hospitals and public health agencies make requests for decision support through a procedural mechanism called Applied Health Research Questions. 

Over the last two years, our researchers have conducted a great deal of COVID-19 research. Several projects at ICES Western have examined vaccine effectiveness and spread of the virus. Investigators have used a data-driven approach to help protect people experiencing homelessness in Ontario. Another study quantified the impact of COVID infections on physicians, including how many of them became ill, were hospitalized and received care in the intensive care unit. 

Research done through ICES Western has led to important changes in health care. For example, Health Canada instituted labeling requirement changes based on drug safety studies done through ICES.

Why is this work so important?

We all want better health outcomes for citizens, both in Ontario and throughout the world. Ideally, we want people to live longer, healthier lives without needing many health care resources, and we want that to be done in an equitable fashion. There is a substantial amount of research needed in multiple areas to achieve this goal. ICES provides a cutting edge infrastructure to enable this work.  

What kind of researchers are involved with ICES?

At ICES Western we support a whole host of individuals and entities as they conduct research. Health care delivery organizations and health agencies including LHSC, the Ontario Renal Network and Trillium Gift of Life Network use knowledge received through reports completed at ICES. Our typical individual investigators include both basic science and clinical investigators. We also support trainees in the areas of epidemiology and statistics, as well as many other fields of study, such as computer science and geography. These are all students who have an interest in working with ‘big’ data. Finally, we have personnel that work with privacy, data, analysis, epidemiology and more.

What do you see in the future for the organization?

We've made a lot of progress in the last 10 years and I can't wait to see what's going to happen in the future. We're still just scratching the surface in terms of what's possible. While what we have done in building this site and supporting important research is impressive, in terms of the possibilities – the sky's the limit. There is so much opportunity around new research and trial methodologies, new insights and new evaluation techniques. I expect ICES Western will continue to develop, enabling a growing number of people to make a large impact. I see ICES continuing to contribute to a world where people live longer, healthier lives. 

What is the most important thing people should know about ICES?

How enabling it is. It's time well spent to really understand what is and is not possible with ICES data and research expertise. Once you invest in it – really spend your time and energy to understand the potential– you start realizing all of these opportunities that would not be possible otherwise. With more than a thousand research studies underway across all ICES sites, we have great discoveries ahead to shape the future of health care in Ontario.

Media Contact
Amanda Taccone

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Lawson Health Research Institute
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