Research hospitals play a leading role in Ontario’s knowledge-based economy. To demonstrate the world-class research happening right here in our province, CAHO was delighted to host Deputy Minister of Research and Innovation, Giles Gherson, and Director Allison Barr on a 3-stop Innovation Tour to research labs at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and University Health Network (UHN).
Touring Ontario’s Health Research Labs
What groundbreaking research did they see? Follow along as we take you through the incredible science that’s happening here in Ontario. To learn more, you can also read our Policy Platform.
STOP 1: Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, SickKids
Our Hosts: Dr. Michael Salter, Dr. Stephen Scherer and Dr. Brian Ciruna
After an introduction by Dr. Salter to the collaborative new research facility, The Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, Dr. Stephen Scherer explained the importance of the human genome as a key to unlocking our genetic mysteries as they relate to diseases and disorders, including his cutting-edge work on autism. He also spoke about The Centre for Applied Genomics, a key platform for researchers in Ontario and nationally, and how that infrastructure enables collaborations with the private sector. Energized by Dr. Scherer’s pioneering research on genomics, CAHO’s Innovation Tourists donned their lab coats and entered Dr. Brian Ciruna’s lab. Building on Ontario’s history as a frontrunner in genetics research, Dr. Ciruna and his team are performing world-leading studies using zebrafish as a model organism to determine how polarized changes in cell shape, structure and movement ultimately form the vertebrate body during embryonic development.
Big Picture: By understanding the signalling pathways that cause a cell to change, scientists can investigate the relation of those changes to the progression of cancer and other diseases and congenital malformations including scoliosis, polycystic kidney disease, and tumor metastasis.
Dr. Michael Salter (R), Dr. Stephen Scherer (L), and Dr. Brian Ciruna (back row) demonstrate the value of genomics research in the Ontario health research enterprise.
Learning how studying zebrafish with scoliosis can lead to treatment for patients at SickKids was awe-inspiring!
STOP 2: Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, UHN
Our Hosts: Dr. Chris Paige and Dr. Geoff Fernie
Swapping their lab coats for winter boots, the Innovation Tour entourage arrived at the WinterLab, located in the iDAPT Centre for Rehabilitation Research. The WinterLab is a cutting-edge underground lab featuring a hydraulic motion simulator, which can mimic everyday environmental challenges. By simulating Canadian winter conditions, WinterLab allows researchers to test and develop new winter footwear, outerwear and improvements to mobility aids in cold, snowy conditions. The tour also visited the StreetLab, another iDAPT simulator that allows scientists to study participants in 3D streetscapes to test mobility devices, hearing aids and other technologies.
Big Picture: By simulating environments that often present challenges for seniors or those with disability or illness, scientists are able to test participants without risk of harm, and develop new, evidence-based mobility aids that will help patients navigate everyday life in Canada.
STOP 3: UHN Research Labs, Toronto Medical Discovery Tower (TMDT)
Our Hosts: Dr. Peter Pisters, Dr. Chris Paige, Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, Dr. Mansoor Husain, Dr. Justin Grant and Dr. Trevor McKee
The tour arrived at Dr. Shaf Keshavjee’s basic science lab, where he demonstrated a groundbreaking world-first: in vivo (inside the body) lung perfusion, currently being tested on a pig. In 2011, Dr. Keshavjee heralded a new era of transplantation with the success of his innovative XVIVO Lung Perfusion System. This system can assess and repair damaged donor lungs while outside the body to prepare for transplantation, allowing for 30 to 40 per cent more donor lungs to be used safely. Building on his research in ex vivo perfusion, Dr. Keshavjee is now testing how treat lung cancer in vivo by isolating a live pig’s lung in order to target chemotherapy treatment.
Big Picture: If scientists can isolate a specific organ that is affected by cancer, they can target treatment so that the rest of the body does not suffer side effects. Moreover, if scientists can repair a damaged organ inside the body, the need for transplant may be reduced.
While at TMDT, the entourage also visited the STTARR Innovation Centre — a self-sustaining facility thanks to private-sector collaboration and the commercialization of products such as surgical navigation and imaging equipment. STTARR is the world’s largest pre-clinical imaging centre, providing state-of-the-art imaging technology for cellular studies at the level of DNA and proteins.
Big Picture: As an unparalleled platform for cutting-edge multidisciplinary research, the STTARR facility is contributing to a smarter Ontario by attracting and supporting top scientists. As a commercialization power house, STARR is contributing to a wealthier Ontario by moving health products to the market.
We would like to extend our sincere thanks to the guests and the hosts who joined us on this Innovation Tour, especially to Deputy Minister Gherson and Director Allison Barr.
“The level of talent that we have in Ontario research hospitals is nothing short of extraordinary,” said CAHO Executive Chair, Karen Michell. “We are producing world-class science here, right now, and support through ORF funding has helped drive the discoveries and innovations that we are seeing in our labs.”
Health research generates new discoveries, better care, greater efficiency, and a knowledge-based economy.