8th Annual Symposium - Intentional Innovation

Event details at a glance

Date: Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Time: 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Venue: MaRS Auditorium, 101 College Street with live virtual streaming available
Poster session: Posters will be displayed during the symposium. Trainees will be available to discuss their work on Dec. 6 between 12:10 p.m. and 1:40 p.m.

**Please note that in-person registration is now full. Please email us at info.mbd@utoronto.ca if you wish to attend in-person. Virtual registration is still available.

About the symposium

From Grand Questions to Pivotal Experiments, the theme of this year’s symposium is ‘Intentional Innovation’.   

Since 2016, Medicine by Design has married high-risk, high-reward research, with a strategy for accelerating the early-stage translation of emerging innovations toward new regenerative medicine products and companies.   

Invited speakers and Medicine by Design principal investigators and trainees will share the impacts of their research across the innovation continuum. 

We will also hold a poster session featuring the research of select trainees working on Medicine by Design-funded projects. 

Invited speakers

Helen Blau

Regenerating and rejuvenating aged tissues by targeting a gerozyme

Helen Blau Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter Foundation Professor and Director, Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology, Stanford University School of Medicine

Helen M. Blau, Ph.D. is the Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter Foundation Professor and Director of the Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology at Stanford University.  Blau is world-renowned for her early work on nuclear reprogramming and demonstration of the plasticity of cell fate using cell fusion.  Her lab has embraced multidisciplinary approaches to characterize the potent muscle stem cell (MuSC) population that is poised to repair muscle throughout life. By designing biomaterials to mimic the in vivo muscle stem cell niche, they were able to maintain the stem cell state in vitro.   Blau’s lab forged methods to prospectively isolate MuSCs using fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS), employed high-resolution lineage mapping by single-cell mass cytometry (CyTOF) to resolve a dysfunctional MuSC subset in aging, and monitored the dynamics of stem cell expansion during regeneration by bioluminescence imaging (BLI). Blau’s lab discovered that aged muscle stem cells and tissues can be rejuvenated by targeting a single enzyme, 15-PGDH, the Prostaglandin E2 degrading enzyme, which she named a “gerozyme”, a pivotal molecular determinant of aging.  Remarkably, 15-PGDH overexpression triggers atrophy in young muscles, whereas its inhibition strengthens aged muscles. The potency of PGE2, which accumulates following enzyme inhibition, arises from its dual targets: muscle stem cells and mature myofibers. These findings hold promise for translation to the clinic to augment strength in patients with muscular dystrophies, disuse atrophy, and sarcopenia, the debilitating loss of muscle function with aging for which there currently is no treatment. Dr. Blau is a co-inventor on 20 patents. She is a member of the Board of Directors and program committee of ISSCR.  She is an elected member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences,  Pontifical Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, and National Academy of Sciences.   


Derrick Rossi

“Stem cell science and the genesis of new therapeutic strategies for patients”

Derrick Rossi President and CEO, Convelo Therapeutics, Co-founder of Moderna Therapeutics 

Dr. Rossi is a biotechnology entrepreneur who has been involved in multiple successful biotechnology ventures. Dr. Rossi is the founder of Moderna Therapeutics, and co-founder of Intellia Therapeutics, Magenta Therapeutics, and Stelexis Therapeutics. He was also a Professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard University, as well as an investigator at Boston Children’s Hospital where he led an academic team working on stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. His efforts in the development of cutting edge technologies and new therapeutic strategies are at the forefront of regenerative medicine and biotechnology. Time magazine named Dr. Rossi as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world (Time 100) in 2011. Dr. Rossi earned his B.Sc. and M.Sc. from University of Toronto, and his PhD from the University of Helsinki.

Fiona Watt

“Exploring skin cell heterogeneity at single cell resolution”

Fiona Watt EMBO Director, European Molecular Biology Laboratory

Fiona Watt obtained her first degree from Cambridge University and her DPhil, in cell biology, from the University of Oxford. She was a postdoc at MIT, where she first began studying differentiation and tissue organisation in mammalian epidermis. She established her first research group at the Kennedy Institute for Rheumatology in London and then spent 20 years at the CRUK London Research Institute. She helped to establish the CRUK Cambridge Research Institute and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research and in 2012 she moved to King’s College London to found the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine. From 2018 to 2022 she was on secondment as Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council. In 2022 she moved to Heidelberg where she runs a lab at EMBL and is EMBO Director. 

“Engineering stem cell development and differentiation”

Peter Zandstra Professor and Director, School of Biomedical Engineering and Michael Smith Labs, University of British Columbia and Co-Founder ExCellThera and Notch Therapeutics

Dr. Peter Zandstra is an internationally recognized expert in cell therapy bioprocess engineering for regenerative medicine and immunotherapy, with a BEng from McGill University in Chemical Engineering, a PhD from the University of British Columbia in Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, and a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Bioengineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His significant contributions to the field of cell therapy are rapidly transforming medicine. 

Today, over 1,500 clinical trials for cell and gene therapies are registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, with tens of thousands of patients already treated. Several cell therapy products have been approved, including CAR-T therapies for certain types of blood cancers. This marks a new pillar of medicine, where engineers like Dr. Zandstra are having a transformative impact. By developing scalable and cost-effective manufacturing strategies for cell and gene therapies, their work makes these life-changing treatments more widely available and accessible to patients in need. 

Dr. Zandstra’s lab applies engineering design principles, computational modeling, and stem cell biology to advance a fundamental understanding of cell fate control mechanisms. Their research focuses on developing new and accessible therapeutic approaches to disease treatment, particularly using cells from the blood-forming system to treat cancer and autoimmunity. Dr. Zandstra has 172 publications (h-index of 75) have been cited almost 22,000 times. 

Dr. Zandstra has already produced commercial technologies and clinical bioprocesses, including new processes to grow blood stem cells for patients with acute leukemia (over 100 patients treated to date), and bioprocesses for the growth differentiation of pluripotent stem cells into T-cells. Key discoveries from his lab include the first demonstration of scalable suspension manufacturing of pluripotent stem cells, engineering of an artificial thymic niche for clinically relevant ex vivo T-cell development, and describing fundamental mechanisms in human multi-cellular tissue pattern formation. 

The impact of Dr. Zandstra’s research contributions are also reflected in the success of the engineering students and post-doctoral fellows who have worked in their lab. Many have grown into leadership positions in sectors such as the biotechnology industry, academia, health regulatory organizations, clinical practice, and law. 

Dr. Zandstra has received broad recognition for his work, including being named a Member of the Order of Canada, University Professor at UoT, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada – Engineering. He has also been recognized internationally as an outstanding and innovative world-class engineer with over 30 honours, including the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, and the McLean Award. He is a highly sought-after speaker, participating in academic and community-oriented discourse in science and engineering, and has given over 225 invited talks since 1998, with 30 keynote/plenary talks in the last 5 years. 

Dr. Zandstra has built a legacy of engineering leadership in the life sciences by establishing several successful interdisciplinary research and development efforts, such as co-founding the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM), Medicine by Design (MbD), and the UBC School of Biomedical Engineering. He has also contributed his leadership towards promoting Canadian Science and Engineering nationally and internationally. 


Session 1: Living therapy innovations in neurological diseases 

  • Molly Shoichet University Professor, Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry and Scientific Director, PRiME, U of T
  • “Astrocyte to neuron reprogramming for stroke recovery”                                                           Jack Hickmott Postdoctoral Fellow (Morshead Lab), Department of Surgery, U of T
  • “Genetic therapies for ultra rare neurogenetic disorder”                                                           Dr. James Dowling Senior Scientist, Genetics and Genome Biology,The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) 

Session 2: Tackling cardiac disease with regenerative approaches  

  • “Heart regeneration with human pluripotent stem cells”                                                                    Dr. Michael Laflamme Senior Scientist, McEwen Stem Cell Institute, UHN 
  • “Cell-based vascularization for cardiac regeneration post myocardial infarction”                      Xuetao Sun – Research Associate (Vasconcelos Lab),  Toronto General Hospital Research  Institute, UHN
  • “Algorithm-directed bioprocess optimization for advanced physiological maturation of iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes”                                                                                                                        Craig Simmons  Professor, Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering U of T and Scientific Director, Translational Biology and Engineering Program, Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research

Session 3: Panel discussion – Driving discovery to impact in Regenerative Medicine: the role of innovative partnerships

  • Moderator: Michael May – President and Chief Executive Officer, CCRM
  • Helen Blau Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter Foundation Professor and Director, Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology, Stanford University School of Medicine 
  • Derrick Rossi President and CEO, Convelo Therapeutics and Co-founder of Moderna Therapeutics   
  • Fiona Watt EMBO Director, European Molecular Biology Laboratory
  • Peter ZandstraProfessor and Director, School of Biomedical Engineering and Michael Smith Labs, University of British Columbia and Co-Founder ExCellThera and Notch Therapeuticss 

Session 4: Novel strategies for immunomodulation  

  • “New insights into IL-10-producing ILC2s and their applications in cell therapies”                    Sarah Crome – Senior Scientist, Toronto General Hospital Research Institute and Ajmera Transplant Centre, UHN
  • “In vitro generation of human CD4 T lineage cells from stem cells”                                                Julius Landas – PhD Candidate (Zúñiga-Pflücker Lab), Department or Immunology, U of T
  • “Why different is good: immunomodulation through heteroatomic tuning of ionizable lipids” Omar F. Khan Assistant Professor, Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Immunology, U of T 

Poster session

The symposium will feature an in-person poster session to highlight the innovative research taking place in Medicine by Design-funded labs. The posters will be judged and prizes will be available for top posters, most translational research and people’s choice.

All attendees are encouraged to browse the posters, which will be displayed during the symposium. Trainees whose posters are featured in the session will be available to discuss their work on December 6, between 12:10 p.m. to 1:40 p.m.


Sponsors: CCRM, Stem Cell Network, admare, Blue Rock, Lumira, Reactome, STEMCELL Technologies, TIAP


Please email info.mbd@utoronto.ca if you have any questions about the symposium.