CCS/CIHR/BC Spark Grants

On Novel Technology Applications in Cancer Prevention and Early Detection

Please review the eligibility and requirements section prior to creating an application.

Application guides can be found on the EGrAMS documentation for applicants page.

Program launch partners

The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research - Institute of Cancer Research (CIHR-ICR), and Brain Canada Foundation (BC or Brain Canada) have committed a total of up to $2.4M over one year to jointly fund Spark Grants focused on Novel Technology Applications in Cancer Prevention and Early Detection.

Please see the ‘Partners description’ section below for more information on Brain Canada, CCS, and the CIHR Institute of Cancer Research.

Competition Timeline

Program Launch
Mid-July 2020
Registration due date
August 28, 2020
Full application due date
October 16, 2020
Results announcement
January 8, 2021
Anticipated funding start date
January 15, 2021


The intent of the Novel Technology Application in Cancer Prevention and Early Detection program is to “spark” and accelerate new activity in the development and/or application of truly novel approaches to cancer prevention and early detection. For example, the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and digital solutions are rapidly evolving, but adoption by the health sector currently lags behind that in other sectors. The desire to improve the efficacy and efficiency of cancer prevention and control continues to drive multiple innovations into practice, including AI. Great potential exists with respect to machine learning, robotics, digital solutions and other emerging technologies for added value for patients, populations, organizations and systems. For instance, AI excels at recognizing complex patterns and thus offers the opportunity to transform aspects of cancer prevention and detection. AI can enable the aggregation of multiple data streams into powerful integrated diagnostic systems spanning radiographic images, genomics, pathology, electronic health records, and social networks. To accelerate progress and uptake in cancer prevention and early detection in the short- to medium-term, CCS, CIHR-ICR and BC are launching this funding opportunity to support Spark Grants designed to gather pilot data to drive the application of truly innovative new technologies, or the novel repurposing of existing technologies into the study of cancer prevention and early detection.

Program description

Spark Grants will support preliminary research to establish proof of principle in novel cancer prevention and early detection approaches. The goal is to fund high risk, high reward studies, that provide sufficient rationale and/or preliminary data to convince reviewers of the novelty and feasibility of the proposed work. Spark grants are intended to support the development of new partnerships and the exploration of highly novel concepts, involving researchers from any research area, and particularly from non-traditional cancer fields, such as engineering, AI, robotics, physics, nanoscience, statistics, informatics, computer and data sciences, behavioural science, and any other discipline poised to seed the next generation of disruptive technologies in cancer control. These grants are not intended to support research that is the “next logical step” in a program of work, but rather provide the evidence for future larger grants that will serve as “game-changers” in the way we approach cancer prevention and early detection, disrupting existing methods and displacing the status quo.

The objective of this funding opportunity is to harness the power of new technologies and interventions to prevent the onset of cancer and/or reduce its severity through early detection when the disease is at its most treatable, including the early detection of recurrence and metastatic spread.

Specifically, the goals of this funding opportunity are:

  • The development and/or application of a truly novel “out-of-the-box” technology to prevent cancer, or improve the sensitivity and/or specificity of primary diagnosis or detection of recurrence
  • The novel repurposing of existing technologies from other research fields or sectors, that could be applied to cancer prevention or early detection 
  • Establishment and development of new multidisciplinary collaborations, including those that bring together individuals with skill sets not generally applied in the cancer field to address prevention or early detection
  • Projects that, if successful, would disrupt existing methods and replace the status quo for cancer prevention and early detection

Funding can contribute towards generating pilot data for a new and exciting idea, establishing and developing new collaborations, testing a new technology or using an existing technology in an innovative way. We envisage that data generated or collaborations established through a Spark grant will form the basis for a more extensive future project within cancer prevention or early detection.

Projects that would be considered ineligible for this competition include:

  • Projects that focus on obvious next steps or incremental research associated with ongoing studies
  • Projects with no clear line of sight for useful application in the short-to-medium-term
  • Projects not specifically focused on prevention and/or early detection

CCS, CIHR and BC are committed to equity, diversity and inclusivity and strive to promote inclusive excellence in our funding programs. We welcome all eligible applicants of diverse backgrounds to apply for our funding opportunities.

Funds available

Spark Grants will be for up to $150K each over a one-year period. Grants will be non-renewable. The total budget available for this competition is up to $2.4M to fund Spark grants under the areas noted below. The engagement of additional partners, or access to additional funds may increase this number.

Funding will be provided to support the direct costs of research, including supplies, salaries, and equipment associated with the proposed work. Equipment requests cannot exceed 10% of the requested budget. Indirect costs are not eligible.

Total budget
Up to $2.4M
One-year period
Up to $150K
Up to 10% of budget 

Please note, that for this funding opportunity:

There will be two funding pools:

  • Breast cancer
  • Other Cancers

Grants will be funded in rank order within each funding pool. Only those applications scoring equal or greater than 3.5 will be considered for funding. Projects with a focus on brain cancer will be co-funded by CCS and BC.

  • Up to $800,000 is available from CIHR-ICR to support Spark grants focused on breast cancer
  • Up to $800,000 is available from BC, subject to availability of funds from CCS, to support Spark grants focused on brain cancer
  • Up to $800,000 is available from CCS to support Spark grants on any cancer type

Additional information

Eligible research areas include, but are not limited to:

  • Novel Imaging/mammography technologies, including computational imaging and bioinformatic algorithms for risk stratification
  • Novel applications in AI, machine learning, nanotechnologies, robotics, software data science, and other promising technologies and systems
  • Applications of liquid-based cytology and biopsies for detection of pre-malignant conditions and secondary screening for recurrence and spread
  • Novel diagnostic biomarkers with clear disruptive potential
  • Development and testing of new wearable technologies, such as a UV radiation exposure monitoring device
  • Developing new mobile apps, such as virtual care delivery text messaging for screening follow-up, mobile apps/video games for health education and promotion, e.g. colonoscopy prep, mobile images to raise awareness about specific cancers, 
  • Creation of innovative web-based communications strategies, such as social media to target prevention in young adults, online decision support tools for symptom checking
  • New tools to integrate and correlate complex, heterogeneous biological and health-related data

A multidisciplinary peer review committee will be assembled for this competition comprised of individuals recommended by CCS, CIHR-ICR and BC.

The mandatory abstract registration will be used to assess relevance to the competition and to inform the composition requirements of the review panel.

Grants will be funded in rank order within the two funding pools.

Abstract registration is mandatory and will include applicant details (Principal Investigators, Co-Applicants, Additional Authors), a public summary, a brief scientific summary, keywords, a clear description of how the proposed study, if successful, has the potential to disrupt status quo, and suggested reviewers and research tracking information. Specific guidelines for the abstract registration are available and should be closely consulted during preparation of the application.

For this competition, there is a limit of one application per nominated Principal Investigator or co-Principal Investigator. Please note that for those applications receiving funds from Brain Canada, a minimum of 2 Principal/Co-Principal Investigators are required, from different institutions (or distinct departments within the same institution).
Applications from Early- and Mid-Career Researchers (within 15 years of their first academic appointment) are strongly encouraged. In addition, researchers from non-traditional disciplines, outside the cancer field, are also strongly encouraged.

A relevance review of the abstract registration will be conducted to ensure alignment with the program description and scientific focus. Abstracts deemed relevant to the competition will be invited to submit a full application.

Any significant changes to the proposed project or applicant team after the Abstract Registration deadline should be communicated to the CCS ( as soon as they are known. Substantive changes that significantly alter the overall goals and aims of the proposal relative to the Abstract Registration are not permitted.

The proposal will contain no more than 5 pages of single-spaced text and 2 pages of figures/tables/charts and associated legends. Specific guidelines for the online application are available and should be closely consulted during preparation if the application.

Full applications include the following:

  1. A public summary of the proposed research that demonstrates how the research will lead to significant improvements in cancer prevention or early detection
  2. A scientific abstract that clearly states the aims of the overall proposal including any previous work done by team members in the area, experimental design(s), methods and analysis plans
  3. A clear description of how the proposed research represents a truly novel approach poised to dramatically improve the way we currently prevent or diagnose cancer
  4. A detailed proposal describing the work to be performed (including aims, previous work, experimental design, methods and analysis), and an indication of which member(s) of the research team will be responsible. Consideration of equity, diversity and inclusion principles in the composition of research team members must be evident.
  5. Considerations regarding sex and/or gender and/or diversity
  6. Relevance of the proposal to cancer prevention or early detection, including the impact that results will have on specific challenges in cancer prevention and early detection. 
  7. A detailed description of any products expected to result from this funding (if applicable).
  8. A detailed knowledge translation and mobilization strategy that chronicle potential next steps and which could include collaborations and partnerships with other research institutions, networks and/or sectors, as appropriate. 

A detailed budget and justification for supplies, expenses, personnel and equipment to conduct the proposed research. This must include the number of personnel required to complete the work and a description of their experience and/or education level.

The review committee will prepare individual written critiques. The review criteria for the applications will include but not necessarily be restricted to the following:

  • the originality and feasibility of the proposed work and its relevance to cancer prevention and early detection
  • the potential for practical interventions in real world settings that will directly impact cancer prevention and early detection and disrupt the status quo
  • the background and scientific rationale for the proposed research
  • the qualifications and experience of the investigators leading and participating in the project
  • the appropriateness of the methods for the focus of the research
  • the appropriateness of the term and amount of support requested
  • the appropriate incorporation of sex as a biological variable and/or gender as a social determinant of health, where applicable

Applicants are reminded to review the eligibility and requirements page for details on scientific and financial reporting, funder acknowledgement, and Canadian Cancer Society policies. In addition, research applications may be related but cannot be identical to any other currently funded projects. It is the responsibility of the applicant to notify the funding Partners immediately should substantial overlap arise from new funding awards during the application and review process of this competition.

Partner description

Brain Canada Foundation is a national registered charity that enables and supports the very best in Canadian neuroscience research. Through the Canada Brain Research Fund, an innovative partnership between the Government of Canada (through Health Canada) and Brain Canada Foundation, the foundation fosters collaborative research, builds capacity of the Canadian brain research community, and accelerates the pace of discovery in order to understand the brain, in health and illness, to improve the lives of Canadians and achieve societal impact.

The Canadian Cancer Society is a national charity that funds ground-breaking research, provides trusted information about cancer, offers programs and services to help people with cancer and their families cope, and advocates to governments for important social change to make healthy living easier. CCS has created the Centre for Cancer Prevention and Support (CCPS) to accelerate the progress of research into action, particularly in the areas of cancer prevention and survivorship. Through CCPS, CCS will play a more active role in facilitating knowledge translation and evidence dissemination for the research we fund.

The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) mandate is to support research that reduces the burden of cancer on individuals and families through prevention strategies, screening, diagnosis, effective treatments, psychosocial support systems, and palliation.

Last modified on: November 5, 2021