SickKids leading medical breakthroughs in child health

SickKids leading medical breakthroughs in child health

Behind the doors of The Hospital for Sick Children’s (SickKids) state-of-the-art Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning (PGCRL), more than 2,000 researchers, trainees and staff are collaborating and conducting cutting-edge research to tackle some of the toughest challenges in child health. This past Fall, the PGCRL celebrated its fifth anniversary; five years of interdisciplinary collaboration, innovation, mentorship, discovery and scientific breakthroughs.

Standing tall at 21 stories and housing over 230 labs, the PGCRL is the largest paediatric research tower in the world. It is designed to promote interaction between research teams from seven different research Programs in order to fuel innovation and accelerate improvements in child health outcomes, both locally and globally. The facility is built to accommodate ‘research neighbourhoods’ where scientists and trainees from a variety of disciplines work side by side, generating out-of-the-box solutions.

“The way people get together to work has been incredible,” says Dr. Michael Salter, Chief of Research. “Even after five years there’s a buzz about it, which means there’s a buzz about research. Usually medical research facilities are housed in low buildings, very spread out. Here it’s so bright. It puts people in a good mood and helps fuel their creativity.”

A Look at Donor Recognition at SickKids
Exterior of the SickKids Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning. (Photo: SickKids)

Since opening its doors in 2013, the PGCRL has drawn some of the world’s brightest minds and leads the way in paediatric medical breakthroughs. It may not be a coincidence then that SickKids continues to secure more Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funding than any hospital in the country. Additionally, for the past few years, SickKids has ranked among the top of RE$EARCH Infosource Inc’s list of Canada’s Top 40 Research Hospitals. Most notable among these rankings, SickKids has been recognized as the most research-intensive hospital in Canada.

“This building has been a crucial enabler over the past five years for Toronto and Canada in attracting and retaining world-class leaders in child health research. Over the next five years and beyond, we will continue to be a forward-looking institution, driven to discover new breakthroughs, achieve new heights and solve new problems,” says Salter.

On the outside, the PGCRL emanates excellence, innovation and grandeur, while on the inside it also gives scientific staff a greater sense of purpose, motivation and togetherness.

As noted, the Research Institute boasts seven distinct research Programs. All seven have reported major breakthroughs over the last five years. Read below for a small sampling of some of these achievements.

Cell Biology

  • A senior scientist and his team showed that a drug commonly used to treat malaria had the potential to prevent neurodegeneration in cells from newborns affected by Zellweger syndrome, a rare genetic disease that is typically fatal within the first year of a child’s life.

Child Health Evaluative Sciences

  • Researchers are creating “Prenatal Sprinkles”, a supplement of iron and calcium encapsulated in a dissolvable coating, which will enable nutrients to be more easily absorbed in different parts of the maternal digestive tract. This will help to improve maternal and newborn health and reduce morbidity in low-income settings in Africa and South Asia.

Genetics and Genome Biology

  • Scientists from the Toronto Centre for Applied Genomics sequenced the genome of the most iconic Canadian animal species, including the beaver, the lynx and the snowshoe hare.
  • A game-changing study identified for the first time that a significant portion of all human cancers are hypermutant. Hypermutant tumours create distinct footprints that may show researchers important information about how the tumour will behave and how it will respond to treatment, leading to more proactive and targeted care.

Developmental and Stem Cell Biology

  • Medulloblastoma is the most common malignant paediatric brain cancer. A recent study showed that these cancer cells can circulate though the bloodstream when it was previously assumed that metastasis of this brain tumour was through the cerbrospinal fluid. This research can help contribute to improving diagnosis of the disease.

Molecular Medicine 

  • Molecular Medicine is home to the immunologist who first uncovered the symptoms of Roifman Syndrome, a rare congenital condition which bears his name. Later, he also discovered the genetic cause behind this disease, enabling a clear diagnosis and better treatment for children and their families.

Neurosciences and Mental Health

  • Researchers discovered that there are at least two forms of ADHD, one that is caused as a result of genetic risk and the other a result of traumatic brain injury.

Translational Medicine

  • A research team developed an ELISA test to detect antibodies to Stenotrophomonas maltophilia in the sera of cystic fibrosis patients who are susceptible to this increasingly prevalent and hard-to-treat bacterial infection.