Minister of Science visits UHN

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UHN showcases its cutting edge research and facilities to The Honourable Kirsty Duncan.
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(L-R): The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Canada's Minister of Science, tours the UHN campus with Dr. Brad Wouters, Dr. Rama Khokha and Dr. Mary Gospodarowicz.

On November 24, 2017, UHN welcomed The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Canada’s Minister of Science, to tour its research facilities. The 90-minute visit highlighted selected research focusing on personalized cancer medicine happening at two sites: Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (PM) and the Princess Margaret Cancer Research Tower.

Hosted by senior leaders—Dr. Brad Wouters (Executive Vice President, Science and Research, UHN), Dr. Mary Gospodarowicz (Medical Director, PM), Dr. Rama Khokha (Interim Research Director, PM), Gill Howard (Vice President, Public Affairs and Communications, UHN) and Laura Syron (Vice President, Community Programs, The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation)—the visit provided researchers with an opportunity to showcase innovative research and state-of-the-art facilities:

● The PM Tumour Immunotherapy Program, Canada’s first and largest program of its kind. Dr. Linh Nguyen, Head of the Program’s Cell Production Team, described the many ways that PM is reprogramming patients’ own immune cells to fight cancer.

● The PM Living Biobank, one of the largest facilities in the world that collects patient-derived tissues to advance personalized cancer medicine. Director Dr. Ming-Sound Tsao and Managers Dr. Nikolina Radulovic and Dr. Nhu-An Pham discussed the value of these living models in testing the anti-cancer effects of new therapies.

● The PM Genomics Centre, one of the largest clusters of advanced sequencing equipment in the world. Dr. Philippe Bedard (Clinical Director, Cancer Genomics Program) and Dr. Trevor Pugh (Scientific Director, PM Genomics Centre) demonstrated the tightknit collaboration between UHN’s clinical and research arms, describing how patient samples are collected and processed for molecular sequencing trials such as LIBERATE.

● The STTARR Innovation Centre, a world renowned imaging facility. Preclinical & Computational Director Dr. David Jaffray and Research Program Manager Dr. Justin Grant showcased sophisticated technologies to visualize, track and target tumours in experimental models.

Minister Duncan’s visit also provided the ideal opportunity to show UHN’s full support for Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, Investing in Canada’s Future: Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research. Commissioned by Minister Duncan and released in early 2017, the report states that “by various measures, Canada’s research competitiveness has eroded in recent years when compared with international peers” and provides a series of recommendations to restore federal funding for research—the implementation of which would ensure that Canada continues to attract and retain some of the world’s best and brightest research talent.

After the tour, the Minister sat down with for a lively roundtable discussion, which was joined by Dr. Michael Hoffman and Dr. Marianne Koritzinsky. The conversation focused on a number of key issues, including the unique funding challenges faced by research hospitals in Canada; the need for more stable funding to support and encourage early career researchers; and implementation of the recommendations outlined in Canada’s Fundamental Science Review. The roundtable was also an opportunity for researchers to learn about Minister Duncan’s background, including her experience leading a research team to the Norwegian Arctic to search for the origins of the 1918 flu pandemic, as well as her teaching at Royal Roads University in British Colombia and at the University of Toronto, where she is appointed as an Adjunct Professor.

UHN thanks Minister Duncan for taking the time to visit.

Dr. Linh Nguyen (left) shows Minister Duncan (right) some patient-derived immune cells that will be enhanced to fight tumours.

Dr. Ming-Sound Tsao (left) describes to Minister Duncan (right) some of the novel approaches used by the PM Living Biobank to create unique experimental cancer models from patient-derived tissues.

Dr. Philippe Bedard (left) and Dr. Trevor Pugh (centre) highlight for Minister Duncan (right) the tightly coupled clinical and research arms at PM.

Dr. David Jaffray (right) discusses with Minister Duncan (right) how advanced imaging techniques help researchers to develop new therapeutic strategies for cancer.

The tour ended with a roundtable discussion on the state of research funding in Canada (Clockwise beginning on the left: Minister Duncan, Dr. Rama Khokha, Dr. Philippe Bedard, Dr. Trevor Pugh, Dr. Mary Gospodarowicz, Dr. Michael Hoffman, Dr. Ming-Sound Tsao, Dr. Marianne Koritzinsky, Dr. Brad Wouters).