Founded in 2019 by Dr. An-Wen Chan, the Skin Investigation Network of Canada (SkIN Canada) is designed to improve skin health through collaborations with patients and interdisciplinary teams of researchers and clinicians from across the country. The launch of the network in 2020 was supported by funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). This year, SkIN Canada has received another $2 million in funding over five years from CIHR that will be directed to two priority areas of research—rare skin diseases and ethnodermatology.
“Back when we started this, the skin research community was relatively dispersed and there were silos of expertise, not only in academic centers but also in the community, where Canadian dermatologists play a huge role in conducting clinical trials and other types of research,” Dr. Chan said in a press release. “We really wanted to bring people together and establish a forum where we could leverage that expertise in terms of personnel, infrastructure and community relationships.”
Dr. Chan is a dermatologist and Phelan Senior Scientist at Women’s College Hospital and Professor in the Department of Medicine, University of Toronto.
Over the past three years, SkIN Canada has created 15 new interdisciplinary research teams across the country. An initiative completed in 2022, informed by patient voices, identified key knowledge gaps and research priorities.
The initiative surveyed 500 patients and clinicians and held consensus-building workshops to create a patient-informed research agenda. The project was recognized with a 2023 CIHR Research Excellence Prize for Patient Engagement by the Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis.
“This approach turned the typical process on its head since it’s usually funders, industry sponsors, or researchers who are working in areas they're interested in and setting the research agenda, and that doesn’t always align with what patients feel is important,” said Dr. Chan. “We hope that other stakeholders and funders may look to this agenda to see what types of research they should be supporting.”
The network's commitment to patient-centred approaches includes its governance structure, with patient advocates serving on all committees, project teams, and award review panels. Workshops on patient engagement organized by SkIN Canada are designed to educate researchers and trainees on how they can effectively involve patients in their work.
“One of our key operating principles is that we’re trying to bridge the gap between community-based and academic-based practitioners and researchers,” said Dr. Chan. “Recognizing that most dermatological diseases are managed in the community, we want to ensure that we can partner with interested clinical researchers who have an enormous amount to contribute in their community practices.”