Researchersarepoised to makeunprecedentedbreakthroughsinhuman health thanks toadvancesin biomedical and computational sciencesthathave drivencritical tools and technologiessuch as genetic engineering,synthetic biology, andartificial intelligence.
Thats the messageDr. VictorDzau, president oftheU.S.National Academy ofMedicine, delivered to Medicine by Designs fifthannual symposium on Dec. 7 and 8.
Thevirtual event, whichattracted more than 500 registrants from across North America, focused on the theme of better science throughconvergence theintegration of approaches from engineering, science, medicine and other fields to expand knowledge and spark innovation.
I think for younger people, there is really not a more exciting time, in my opinion, to do research than now, because we can really see that some of the initial concepts that people have about health and medicinecan be realizedand truly transform the way we do health andmedicine.
In his talk, Dzau focused on the National Academy of MedicinesHealthy Longevity Global Challenge,an international competition that aims to catalyze transformative ideas and breakthroughs that will extend human healthand lifespan.
That program is one of the inspirations for Medicine by DesignsGrand Questions Program, which seeks to fund bold research that promises dramatically better health outcomes by changing the future of regenerative medicine.
Through our Grand Questions Program, we are thinking about what comes next and how to overcome fundamental problems in regenerative medicine,saidMichael Sefton, executive director of Medicine by Design andUniversity Professorin the department of chemical engineering and applied chemistry and theInstitute of Biomedical Engineeringat the University of Toronto.
We have a broad definition of regenerativemedicine, andpreventing degeneration can be as important as the next cell therapy.
Sefton pointed out that the symposium theme of better science through convergencefocusedon a key aspect of Medicine by Design:That we combine campus and hospital investigators, transformative science and translational elements, junior and senior investigators, and local and international collaborators, to address fundamental problems in regenerative medicine.
Thesymposium also featured a talk byRobert Langer, David H. KochInstitute Professorin the department of chemical engineeringat the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The most highly cited engineer in history, he spoke about lessons helearnedfromhisscientific and business successes and how he decidedto be his own champion after facing criticism for his novel ideas early in his career.
If you try to do things whether its convergence, or things that a lot of people disagree with you have tohang in there, Langer said.Having good intellectual property has been key toraising the funds to do these things, and medicine is an incredibly expensive thing.
And finally, you really need teams that are super driven, and I think these startup companies have been a wonderful way to do this.
The symposium was organized around four sessions: translation, inflammation, biomaterials andimmunoengineering.Invited speakers from across North AmericaincludedKim Warren(AVROBIO),Kenneth Walsh(University of Virginia),Sarah Heilshorn(Stanford University)andMegan Levings(University of British Columbia).
All speakers fromU of T and its partnerhospitals were lead investigators on Medicine by Designs multi-disciplinary, multi-institution team projects. They included:John Dick,Clinton RobbinsandShaf Keshavjee(University Health Network (UHN));Molly Shoichet(department of chemical engineering and applied chemistry and Institute of Biomedical Engineering);Juan CarlosZiga-Pflcker(Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre);andAndras Nagy(Sinai Health System).
Ted Sargent, vice-president of research and innovation, and strategic initiatives,and a University Professor in the Edward S. Rogers Sr. department of electrical and computer engineering,opened the symposium by congratulatingMedicine by Design on its successful mid-term review, which was conducted in early 2020 by a panel of international experts and theCanada First Research Excellence Fund(CFREF), which funds Medicine by Design.
Medicine by Design has amplified existing areas ofexcellenceatU of Tandour partner hospitals (Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network),and pushed the boundaries of regenerative medicine to tackle cell-based therapies, strategies for endogenous repair and the use of a stem cell lens to target the triggers of disease,Sargent said. In fact, Medicine by Design is such a compelling collaborative, cross-disciplinary initiative that itis a template fora new class of initiatives at the University ofToronto theInstitutional Strategic Initiativesportfolio whosepurpose is to mobilize ambitious,groundbreaking, collaborative, multi-institutional research networks that tackleimportantresearch problems, buildmajorexternal partnershipsboth with industry and emerging companies as well as with global academic peers;and foster societal impact.
They support the pursuit of grand challenges and bold ideas across disciplinary boundaries,further elevate U of Ts profile in high priority research areas of strategic importance,and enable us to realize transformational impacts on issues of major societal import.
The symposium also offered an opportunity for almost 45trainees to present their research during a poster session.KerstinKaufmann, a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory ofJohn Dick(Princess Margaret Cancer Centre,UHN), won first place.JonathanLabriola, apost-doctoral fellowinSachdev Sidhuslab(Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, U of T), placed second, whileSabihaHacibekiroglu, a post-doctoral fellow in the lab ofAndras Nagy(Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, UHN)placed third.The awards were sponsored by STEMCELL Technologies.
YasamanAghazadeh,a post-doctoral fellow in the labsofCristina Nostro(McEwen Stem Cell Institute, UHN)andSara Nunes Vasconcelos(Toronto General Hospital Research Institute,UHN),won theCCRMTranslation Awardfor the poster with the greatest translational potential.AndAi Tian, a post-doctoral fellow fromJulien Muffatslab (The Hospital for Sick Children), won thePeoples Choice Award, a new award this year that wasdetermined byvotingby symposium attendeesand sponsored byBlueRockTherapeutics.
Funded by a $114-million grant from CFREF, Medicine by Design brings together more than 145principal investigators at the University of Toronto and its affiliated hospitals to work at the convergence of engineering,medicineand science. It builds on decades of made-in-Canada excellence in regenerative medicine dating back to the discovery of stem cells in the early 1960s by Toronto researchers James Till andErnest McCulloch.
Regenerative medicine uses stem cells to replace diseased tissues and organs, creating therapies in which cells are the biological product. Regenerative medicine can also mean triggering stem cells that are already present in the human body to repair damaged tissues or to modulate immune responses. Increasingly, regenerative medicine researchers are using a stem cell lens to identify critical interactions or defects that prepare the ground for disease, paving the way for new approaches to preventing disease before it starts.
(Photo of Robert Langer by Jason Alden)
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