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Addendum to the guidelines for the eligibility of applications related to health


The three federal granting agencies—the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the This link will take you to another Web site Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the This link will take you to another Web site Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)—have developed guidelines for This link will take you to another Web site Selecting the Appropriate Federal Granting Agency to help applicants select the appropriate agency when applying for funding. These guidelines describe the eligible and ineligible research subject matter for support from each agency; and apply to research, research training, and related activities.

NSERC collaborates closely with the other granting agencies to encourage and promote support to the full range of natural sciences and engineering (NSE) research and research training, including collaboration across disciplines and subject areas.

This is an addendum to the This link will take you to another Web site Selecting the Appropriate Federal Granting Agency guidelines (namely the This link will take you to another Web site Guidelines for the eligibility of applications related to health section) and provides examples of eligible and ineligible research subject matter related to NSERC’s function legislated in the This link will take you to another Web site NSERC Act.

In addition to reading the guidelines on This link will take you to another Web site Selecting the Appropriate Federal Granting Agency and this addendum, applicants are encouraged to contact the research services or student liaison offices at their institution for guidance.

Applicants may also wish to seek advice from the NSERC program officer of the program to which they are considering applying.


Some research areas overlap the mandates of both NSERC and CIHR. The following examples illustrate the eligibility of applications related to human health for NSERC funding. These lists are not exhaustive. While the examples are grouped by broad themes, applicants should consider all sections due to their interrelatedness.

Fundamental Processes in Humans (for all research disciplines)

Research seeking to further our understanding of fundamental processes in humans is eligible for NSERC support. However, research with disease-related goals—including work on the etiology, diagnosis, treatment or prevention of physical or mental disease, abnormality, or dysfunction in humans—is normally not eligible. Research based on an experimental system that represents a state of disease or dysfunction may be eligible when the primary objective is to understand the functioning of the healthy state.

NSERC Eligible NSERC Ineligible
Studies using cancer cells to investigate mechanisms of apoptosis (programmed cell death) in normal cells Identification or validation of a target for therapy, or measuring the response to a therapy
Studies aimed at understanding the contraction, fatigue, load or recovery cycle of muscle in healthy subjects  
Research aimed at developing a new diagnostic technology based on known biomarkers Testing or optimizing of new diagnostic technology
Research involving the fundamental biochemistry of drug delivery mechanisms (e.g., liposome microsphere preparation) Testing or optimizing of new drug delivery mechanisms
Modifying gene expression or replication processes and studying the impact of different hormonal levels in healthy state stem cells Gene replication or cell death studies in stem cells that have been transformed into cancer cells to learn about cancer treatment or prevention
Developing nanomaterials, testing bio-compatibility, molecular compatibility, and release of the material Testing new materials for treatment efficiency or improved drug formulation; validating newly developed drug delivery mechanisms (in vivo, ex vivo, in vitro)
Studying virus growth and replication, and virus/host interactions within a normal state host immune system Studying virus growth and replication in the diseased state to understand disease progression
Studying the immune response of a healthy human host to commensal bacteria, or the response to initial contact with invasive bacteria or viruses Studying human immune response under a state of disease caused by an acute or chronic bacterial infection
Investigating ontogeny of the healthy human immune system Research on immune system development in immunodeficiency disorders
Constructing new compounds and determining their molecular structure and chemical properties Testing chemical properties and metabolic roles of possible treatment compounds in a state of disease or dysfunction
Studies aimed at evaluating the pattern of hormonal changes during healthy pregnancy Studies aimed at understanding pre-eclampsia; studies aimed at treating gestational diabetes
Studies of aging processes to understand the fundamental mechanisms of human function or cellular function Studies of age-related development and mechanisms of osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s
Cell motility: understanding the role of pili in plant bacteria motility in agriculture Cell motility: cellular and molecular investigation of cancer metastasis
Modeling Avian Influenza Virus transmission between wild geese populations and free ranging poultry farms Modeling Avian Influenza genotypes to predict human vaccine components or human epidemics
Analysis of joint mechanical performance under stress in healthy subjects Rehabilitation of gait impairment in patients with concussions
Biomechanical testing of a device on an able bodied person to ensure the components perform as designed Biomechanical assessment by a clinician performing a procedure with a medical device
Use of video tracking, computer simulation, and analysis to assess biomechanics of specific movements (e.g., throwing, running, kicking) in the healthy state Use of computer simulation and analysis to assess rehabilitation treatment effects or responses
Development of new mathematical or statistical models, theories, methodologies, or analytical tools that may lead to potential future applications in human health—such as diagnosis or treatment Use of already existing mathematical/statistical models, theories, methodologies, analytical tools for disease treatment or diagnosis
Development of novel imaging methods that may lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of disease Use of existing imaging methods to determine their efficacy in a clinical setting
Development of mathematical models to evaluate uncertainty Applying decision-based mathematical models to predict risk of error by emergency respondents or to predict disease outbreaks

Pharmaceuticals, Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods for Human Use

Research related to pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals or functional foods has significant grounding in the health sciences and cannot be supported by NSERC unless the focus is on advancing the NSE.

Research related to developing novel ways of synthetizing active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and analogs, scaling up production of new APIs, and research including bio-assays conducted strictly for the purpose of validating the development strategies, may be supported. Research related to food components, nutraceuticals, or functional foods is eligible if it aims to elucidate the mechanism of action of a dietary component purported to affect a specific structure or physiological function.

NSERC Eligible NSERC Ineligible
Development of novel biological sources rich in a desired nutraceutical or pharmaceutical ingredient or of a precursor aimed at production Screening of compounds for bioactivity, including high throughput assays, building of compound libraries for screening purposes, testing of drug candidates for efficacy or determination of pharmacological parameters
Development of novel nutraceutical ingredients or processes leading to products containing desired nutraceutical ingredients, including  the determination of digestibility and availability of the ingredient Gathering of information about active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) or nutraceutical ingredient for regulatory or marketing purposes
Elucidation of the mechanism of action of a nutraceutical on a specific physiological function Determination or validation of the direct or suspected effects on health of a candidate nutraceutical ingredient or combination
Development of new technology allowing the production of vaccines Development of a vaccine for a specific use or of new delivery methods for vaccines
Biological testing to evaluate the synthesis/manufacturing development strategy Projects where the main focus is on validation through biological testing (in vivo, ex vivo, in vitro)
Development of novel non-active and non-disease specific ingredients used to deliver APIs in biological systems Research aimed at delivering a specific API in the context of the development of the drug
Development of new food combining nutraceutical ingredients Testing and validation of health properties of new food
Use of known APIs in investigating fundamental mechanisms  

Medical Devices and Technologies

NSE research whose primary purpose is the development of medical devices—including monitoring and diagnostic technologies—and devices for treating a disease or physical condition is eligible, unless it is at the validation stage (i.e., pre-clinical in vivo testing, reliability testing, comparison studies and clinical trials).

Research aimed at developing medical devices used to treat a disease or physical condition can have a strong engineering component in the early stages of development and require the skills and expertise of non-medical engineers and/or scientists in their development. A combination of diseased-state and healthy-state are used to verify the performance/utility, and to provide feedback in the device’s development stage. This “non diseased”-focused research is part of NSERC’s mandate.

NSERC Eligible NSERC Ineligible
Verification and evaluation of medical devices (in vitro and ex vivo testing, feasibility testing in vivo with a very limited number of subjects) Validation of medical devices (animal or human trials for efficacy testing, reliability testing and comparison studies)
Developing methodology for sterilization and fatigue testing of the medical device Safety assessment of the medical device
Using biomechanical methods to assess mechanical properties of newly developed biomaterials Assessment of potential damage or injury associated with a medical procedure
Designing and modeling of medical implants on synthetic models (or on a small scale ex vivo) and optimization of placement Phase I or large-scale animal trials of new implants
Biocompatibility assessment in the development of new medical devices Biocompatibility assessment of commercially available medical devices
Formulation, conceptualization and/or feasibility of new, or modification of an existing, medical device that clearly demonstrates a research challenge in the NSE -
Verification and evaluation of mechanical properties, degradation rates, or biocompatibility of newly developed artificial, bioinspired and / or tissue-engineered biomaterials or scaffolds Studies assessing artificial, bioinspired and/or tissue-engineered biomaterials or scaffolds treatment efficiency or wound healing in injury or disease states

Decision-making and consultation process to determine the eligibility of applications related to human health

For most programs, decision-making about eligibility is entrusted to NSERC. Potential applicants are encouraged to contact NSERC staff with any questions regarding subject matter eligibility in advance of submitting their application. Staff will endeavour to provide advice to applicants; however, a final decision on eligibility will only be made following the receipt of a full application.

NSERC staff also consults, as required, with outside experts and/or with officials at SSHRC or CIHR for input before reaching a decision. Applicants whose proposals are deemed ineligible are informed in writing.

Please note that NSERC does not accept appeals on the grounds of subject matter eligibility.