McMaster University is on its way to moving stem cell research “from the bench to the bedside” thanks to a $30 million boost from a local family.
The Marta and Owen Boris Foundation made the large donation to establish a human stem cell therapy centre and a unique clinic for patients with complex health conditions.
Owen, the founder of Mountain Cablevision, was in talks with McMaster about investing in their work before he died last April. His children and wife contacted the university a month later and carried out his vision, firming up their commitment last November.
The Boris Family Centre in Human Stem Cell Therapies will be developed as part of the McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute using $24 million of the funds.
“It’s getting over that chasm from the bench to the bedside that this (donation) is going to allow us to do,” the institute’s scientific director Dr. Mick Bhatia said.
The centre will give scientists the resources to focus on converting McMaster’s breakthroughs — such as the ability to make blood or types of neural cells with stem cells — into clinical applications through investigative trials, Bhatia said.
“In the absence of this donation, I think we would not be in the position to move our discoveries forward,” he said. “This is a huge leg-up. I’m hoping what it’s really going to do is have a ripple effect to change the way McMaster views translating basic science.”
They plan on developing human stem cell therapies targeting leukemia and possibly neural diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, said Dr. John Kelton, dean and vice-president of the faculty of health sciences.
The remaining $6 million will go toward building a clinic in partnership with Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) where patients with complex health issues can see specialists and undergo tests in one visit.
This was a result of his parents’ frustrating experiences in recent years with co-ordinating specialists and getting diagnostic testing done in Canada, said Owen’s son, Les Boris.
They ended up going to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where they had a case manager who co-ordinated their appointments with specialists and made sure testing was done in-house, he said. “They like the idea of a one-stop shop … (My father) said: ‘This is the kind of model we need here in this country.’”
Kelton said the medical clinic, which will be built in the university’s medical centre, will look for rapid turnaround times and avoid duplications of lab tests. McMaster and HHS will also evaluate the clinic’s success and keep an electronic medical record that patients could access, he said.
Kelton and Owen met three years ago and had their last meeting about the projects three days before the philanthropist died.
Owen had worked on the Avro Arrow and was frustrated with Canada’s lost opportunity of making jet planes for the world, Kelton said.
“He said, ‘Tell me about some opportunities (that) – if we invested in it – could make Hamilton and McMaster world-class. What are some of the areas like an Avro Arrow?’”
The funds for the human stem cell therapy centre will go toward hiring a research chair in blood stem cells and a research chair in neural stems cells, setting up several fellowships and technician positions, and building the facility.
Bhatia says they hope to bring in new scientists and fellows by the early summer.
The Boris family previously donated $6 million to addiction research at St. Joseph’s Healthcare for its new mental health hospital being built on the Mountain and another $5 million for the da Vinci SI Surgical Robotic System.
“We’re very appreciative that we’re in a position to be doing something for the community,” Les said. “And it was the community that put us in the position to do this.
905-526-2468 | @WongatTheSpec
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