Medicine by Design Investigators

Medicine by Design Investigators2018-12-05T13:12:53+00:00

Medicine by Design is committed to attracting the finest emerging and established researchers in regenerative medicine from around the world to the University of Toronto and its affiliated hospitals. We have collaborated with departments and faculties in the recruitment of the following new Medicine by Design investigators:

John Calarco, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Cell & Systems Biology, University of Toronto
Medicine by Design Investigator
Photo of John Calarco
Where did you complete your training?

I completed my undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Toronto. I obtained my Ph.D. in the Department of Molecular Genetics, working under the guidance of Professors Ben Blencowe and Mei Zhen. I then became a group leader and Bauer Fellow at the Center for Systems Biology at Harvard University, before returning to my favourite city.

Tell us about your research.

Broadly speaking, I study how the information contained in our genes gets interpreted by cells of the nervous system to give these cells a more diverse array of functions. I’m particularly interested in a phenomenon known as alternative splicing, where information in a single gene can encode multiple molecules with distinct functions in different cells. I would like to better understand how this phenomenon contributes to building nervous systems and the production of brain cells.

Why did you decide to come back to Toronto?

Having trained here as a graduate student, I experienced first-hand how collaborative researchers are across the University of Toronto and surrounding hospitals. There are experts here in just about any discipline you can think of, and this extends from biology to chemistry, physics, and computer science. I’m very excited to be back in this environment as a principal investigator.

What do you find most valuable about being part of Medicine by Design?

I am very excited to interact with the strong stem cell community in Toronto and apply some of the concepts we are learning through our research to the differentiation of stem cells.

What is one thing people might not know about you from your CV?

I am an avid soccer fan. My childhood dream was to be a professional player, but now I just try to avoid getting injured when playing for fun.

Sarah Crome, PhD

Scientist, University Health Network
Assistant Professor, Department of Immunology, University of Toronto
Medicine by Design Investigator
Photo of Sarah Crome
Where did you complete your training?

After my undergraduate degree in biomedical science at the University of Waterloo, I did graduate work in the laboratory of Dr. Megan Levings at the University of British Columbia, in the experimental medicine program. I then joined the laboratory of Dr. Pamela Ohashi at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto for my post-doctoral work.

Tell us about your research?

My research is focused on identifying mechanisms that control immune responses, with the goal of using this knowledge to create novel therapies for transplantation, autoimmunity and cancer. I’m particularly interested in using cells of the immune system in cell-based therapies.

Why did you decide to stay in Toronto?

I came to Toronto originally because the cancer immunotherapy program being developed by Dr. Ohashi offered the opportunity to do exciting translational research. I’m staying because of the world-class scientists I get to interact with on a daily basis, the Multi-Organ Transplant Group at University Health Network (UHN) being a powerhouse in the field of solid organ transplantation, and the ability to access cutting-edge technologies within the University of Toronto and UHN.

What are you most looking forward to about joining the Medicine by Design community?

The interdisciplinary approach of the Medicine by Design community is what is needed to take both regenerative medicine and immunotherapies to the next level. Bringing together scientists in diverse fields will allow for cross-pollination of ideas and collaborative approaches that otherwise wouldn’t take place. Joining this forward-thinking, dynamic and engaging community both inspires and motivates me.

What is one thing people might not know about you from your CV?

When I’m not in the lab, I’m usually found on the water. Windsurfing is a particular obsession of mine. Which tends to make me an amateur storm chaser, as you are always looking for high winds and big waves that come with storms.

Joshua Currie, PhD

Assistant Professor, departments of Biochemistry and Cell & Systems Biology, University of Toronto
Medicine by Design Investigator
Joshua Currie
Where did you complete your training?

I received my PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill working with Stephen Rogers on how molecular machines regulate cytoskeletal dynamics during processes like cell migration. For my post-doctoral training, I wanted to move to a multi-cellular scale, to understand how cells work together to restore and regenerate lost tissues. I worked in the lab of Elly Tanaka in Dresden, Germany at the Center for Regenerative Therapies.

Tell us about your research.

As a biologist, I’m often flabbergasted by the ability of cells to perform extreme feats of morphogenesis. Few processes are more extreme than the ability to completely re-grow a limb after amputation, which happens naturally in my favourite animal, the Mexican axolotl. Our own bodies don’t regenerate well, often forming scars, but the reason for this difference in outcome between salamander and humans isn’t necessarily so evident. Our goal is first to understand how perfect regeneration works in the axolotl and then determine what key steps differ to prevent regeneration in mammals like mice and humans. We attack this problem by leveraging cutting-edge tools in the axolotl such as high-resolution, live-cell imaging, CRISPR genome editing, and transgenic models. We use these tools to understand how molecules and cells are co-ordinated after injury to reconstitute only the missing, proportioned limb segments.

Why did you decide to come to Toronto?

I am delighted that my lab’s research could find a home in Toronto! I feel perfected situated in the community here between colleagues that think deeply about fundamental mechanisms of morphogenesis, while the regenerative medicine community in Toronto, exemplified in Medicine by Design, are thinking about how to transform discoveries into meaningful advances in human health. Besides the lovely melding of these two perspectives, the overall critical mass of research in Toronto is just staggering.

What do you find most valuable about being part of Medicine by Design?

I think as researchers we tend to stay insulated within our subfields and ask very specific questions. What has been the most exciting to me is to interact with so many talented and driven colleagues who have completely different expertise and research questions, united under the vision of Medicine by Design. I’m excited to think about regenerative medicine through the lens of so many unfamiliar (to me) disciplines like synthetic biology, engineering and immunology.

What is one thing people might not know about you from your CV?

Firstly, growing up in Tennessee it was a short drive in any direction to reach absolute solitude in nature. I spent many of my younger days backpacking through the southeast U.S. and even other countries. I’m looking forward to exploring more of Ontario and Canada. Secondly, I love listening to music and I have an extremely eclectic taste that runs the gamut. The chance that you’ll find me in silence in my office is next to zero.

Michael Garton, PhD

Assistant Professor, Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering, University of Toronto
Medicine by Design Investigator
Michael Garton
Where did you complete your training?

I did my PhD in the laboratory of Prof. Charles Laughton at the University of Nottingham, UK. After that, I worked briefly with Prof. Shoshana Wodak at SickKids here in Toronto, and then completed the bulk of my post-doctoral work with Prof. Philip Kim in the Donnelly Centre for Cellular & Biomolecular Research at the University of Toronto.

Tell us about your research

I’ve spent the last several years designing proteins that can be used as drugs. In my own lab I’ll continue doing protein design, but in the context of designing new components for cells, such as receptors that enable cells to sense new environments. Designed cells can then be implanted as therapeutic devices that constantly monitor and treat disease.

Why did you decide to stay in Toronto?

During my post-doc in Toronto I discovered that the geographically concentrated network of the university and six hospitals really lends itself to collaboration with clinicians. I can think of few places in the world that offer such a great environment for translational research. And as a bonus, Toronto is a wonderful place to live!

What are you most looking forward to about joining the Medicine by Design community?

The community has a diverse array of incredibly exciting and fascinating research areas. I’m looking forward hugely to working with the people involved, and even just observing these efforts as they develop and evolve alongside my own program.

What is one thing that people might not know about you from your CV?

Up until the age of 24, I wanted to be a professional explorer. Then I broke my neck and became paralyzed whilst attempting the first solo ascent of Europe’s tallest vertical rock face, the Troll wall in Norway. Since then I’ve channelled my love of exploration into science, which I’ve discovered in many ways can be even more rewarding.

Thomas Hurd, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto
Medicine by Design Investigator
Photo of Thomas Hurd
Where did you complete your training?

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, my PhD at the University of Cambridge (UK) and my post-doctoral training at New York University School of Medicine (USA).

Tell us about your research.

The central focus of my research is understanding how mitochondria influence stem cell function, fate and differentiation. My research also focuses on how mitochondria are inherited from mother to offspring.

Why did you decide to come back to Toronto?

I was attracted to Toronto by the world-class research community here, and also by how collaborative that community is.

What are you most looking forward to about joining the Medicine by Design community?

I am most looking forward to taking advantage of the the vast stem cell expertise of the Medicine by Design community.

What is one thing that people might not know about you from your CV?

I am very into gardening and have a particular fondness for plants from the Hoya genus.

Hyun Kate Lee, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry, University of Toronto
Medicine by Design Investigator
Photo of Hyun Kate Lee
Where did you complete your training?

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, my PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and my post-doctoral training at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany.

Tell us about your research.

My research focuses on understanding the causes of cellular anomalies observed during neuronal degeneration. Several of these defects stem from aberrant transformation of cellular reaction centers, called membrane-less organelles or biomolecular condensates. My goal is to find out what regulates these centers in health and what causes them to transform in disease.

Why did you decide to come to Toronto?

I was impressed with the amount of exciting research happening in Toronto, covering a hugely diverse array of questions with an equally diverse number of approaches. I was particularly drawn to the collaborative atmosphere across the departments and institutes and the opportunity to belong to a community like Medicine by Design.

What are you most looking forward to about joining the Medicine by Design community?

I am very much looking forward to interacting with like-minded researchers who use stem cells to understand human diseases and to identify ways to promote regeneration of damaged or weakened tissues. I am most excited about finding research synergy and pushing new ideas together.

What is one thing people might not know about you from your CV?

I’m a fan of swing dance and pottery (both as a spectator and a participant), and all opportunities to be lost in nature. The great Canadian outdoors is quite famous and I can’t wait to experience it!

Yun Li, PhD

Scientist, Developmental & Stem Cell Biology, Hospital for Sick Children
Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto
Medicine by Design Investigator
Photo of Yun Li
Where did you complete your training?

After completing my undergraduate study at Wuhan University in China, I pursued PhD training at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where I was in its neuroscience graduate program and conducted research in the laboratory of Dr. Luis Parada. I then joined the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., to conduct post-doctoral research, under the tutelage of Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch.

Tell us about your research.

I have always been fascinated by the brain, how it is formed and how it works. For my PhD research, I used animal models to probe normal development and study neural disorders such as Huntington’s disease, neurofibromatosis and major depression. I started my post-doctoral research at a time when new technologies such as human pluripotent stem cells, genome editing, and three-dimensional organoid cultures put me in an exciting position to directly study human brain development and diseases in a dish. My research has been on developing and utilizing these new technologies to understand how the human brain is formed, what makes the human brain different from that of the other species, and how disorders such as autism impact its normal development and function.

Why did you decide to come to Toronto?

SickKids is a natural fit for me right away because of my interest in studying autism and other childhood disorders. From my first visit on, I have been extremely impressed by the outstanding research environment, the quality of science and most importantly the amazing colleagues around SickKids and the greater Toronto research community. I also love that Toronto is one the most multicultural cities in the world, and I look forward to exploring this vibrant and dynamic place in the years to come.

What are you most looking forward to about joining the Medicine by Design community?

The strong support from Medicine by Design for both basic and translational research in regenerative medicine was a big factor in my decision to come to Toronto. I look forward to working with colleagues from diverse disciplines toward the shared long-term goal of benefiting patients.

What is one thing that people might not know about you from your CV?

I am a big movie buff. I like all genres and my favorite is SciFi.

Julien Muffat, PhD

Scientist, Neurosciences & Mental Health, Hospital for Sick Children
Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto
Medicine by Design Investigator
Photo of Julien Muffat
Where did you complete your training?

I completed my undergraduate degrees at the Biochemistry and Bioengineering department of the École normale supérieure Paris-Saclay (ENS) in France. The school is entirely dedicated to training future educators and researchers. The ENS gives students the opportunity to spend a year or two abroad, and I was lucky to have my first research experience in the laboratory of Rudolph Tanzi at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. This is where I cemented my interest in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. I then went to the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, California, to pursue my doctorate in neurobiology with a scientific hero of mine, the late Seymour Benzer. Following the advent of induced pluripotent stem cell technology, I headed to the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., for my post-doctoral work in the laboratory of Rudolf Jaenisch.

Tell us about your research.

My primary interest is the etiology of neural and glial degeneration, particularly when there is an age-related aspect to it. Eventually, all central nervous system diseases manifest themselves outwardly in neuronal dysfunction, and motor, sensory or cognitive deficits for the patient. But we now appreciate how the problem often starts in glia, the non-electrical cells of the brain. Those constitute more than half of the cells of an adult human brain, and they are not merely a structural scaffold, or a set of insulating elements. One subpopulation of glia are cousins of some white blood cells, macrophages: they are known as microglia. We managed to generate these immune cells from patient skin, via pluripotent stem cells, in the dish. Microglia owe their identity to their residence in the brain, and their biology is linked to the surrounding presence of all the other cells of the brain. For that reason, we devised 3D cultures trying to replicate the tissue-like environment, allowing the study of patient microglia as they interact with neurons and other glial cells. These cells are still very mysterious, but circumstancial evidence is mounting about their involvement in a plethora of disorders. We have a functional platform to test how modulation of their activity (be it by mutations, protein aggregates or viruses) intersects with development, maturation, and degeneration of neural networks.

Why did you decide to come to Toronto?

Living in a new city and a new country is an exciting prospect. The University of Toronto is extremely well respected in the stem cell community, with pioneers ever since James Till and Ernest McCulloch. The Hospital for Sick Children is a powerhouse of research and clinical development in pediatric medicine. I have a particular interest, since my early days working with iPS cells, in a disease called adrenoleukodystrophy, which is a devastating disorder often presenting in childhood. It is also one of the few diseases that is already benefiting from fringe therapies using autologous stem cell transplants and gene therapy combinations. And yet, more needs to be done and understood. Toronto is a perfect place to continue this work, with direct clinical input, and hopefully therapeutic outputs down the line. I felt wonderfully welcomed from the first visit on. As a French citizen, I also liked the idea of coming to country with an old mix of cultures, and bilingual signs in the airport!

What are you most looking forward to about joining the Medicine by Design community?

The existence of Medicine by Design was a strong factor in choosing Toronto. I was lucky to train at institutions where interdisciplinarity has been the modus operandi  for a long time, with very strong basic biological science emerging from cross-talks with so-called harder sciences. All those places also had in common a remarkable engineering tradition: I love to understand how things work, and then replicate what nature does to eventually go beyond. Medicine by Design is a community that understands that interdisciplinarity is key to leveraging the expertise of everyone on campus, to maximize benefits to humanity, patients in particular. A lot of fundamental science goes into laying out the groundwork for the greatest biomedical discoveries, and having a climate that promotes transitions is invaluable. My work on “human-in-a-dish” approaches will be very much at home here.

What is one thing that people might not know about you from your CV?

I love to play the piano and sing too loudly. My future colleagues might hear random renditions of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer, or Jean-Jacques Goldman on the French side, late at night in the corridors of SickKids, once I figure out where the best acoustics are. Born and raised in the Alps, I am a winter sports enthusiast: if and when I find the time, I will be visiting the legendary ski resorts Canada has to offer.

Keith Pardee, PhD

Assistant Professor, Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmcy, University of Toronto
Medicine by Design Investigator
Photo of Keith Pardee
Where did you complete your training?

I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Alberta, master’s degree in botany at the University of British Columbia, PhD in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto and my post-doctoral work at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University.

Tell us about your research.

My lab builds tools that aim to improve access to health care. In our work with Medicine by Design, we have two regenerative medicine projects. One is focused on engineering the gut microbiome to treat inflammatory bowl disease and the other is building a new technology to help reduce the cost of growing the cells needed to bring regenerative medicine to scale.

Why did you decide to come back to Toronto?

I love Toronto, and the opportunity to work in such an amazing research environment made the decision easy.

What do you find most valuable about being part of Medicine by Design?

As a junior faculty member it can take time to build relationships that lead to collaboration. Medicine by Design’s team-based model and community-building efforts introduced me to the regenerative medicine community in Toronto, which has led to strong projects and great mentorship.

What is one thing people might not know about you from your CV?

Before I was a scientist, I went to carpentry school and spent a number of years building houses.

Stephanie Protze, PhD

Scientist, University Health Network
Medicine by Design Investigator
Photo of Stephanie Protze
Where did you complete your training?

I did my undergraduate studies in Dresden, Germany, and stayed there to join the Max Planck Graduate School for my PhD. After that it was time to explore the scientific world outside of Germany and I moved to Canada for my post-doctoral training in the lab of Gordon Keller at University Health Network in Toronto.

Tell us about your research.

During my PhD I became hooked on regenerative therapies to treat heart disease and was fascinated with the electrical wiring (conduction system) that controls the heartbeat. I followed that interest during my post-doc and worked on developing protocols for differentiating pluripotent stem cells into sinoatrial node pacemaker cells, the primary pacemaker cells that initiate the heartbeat. In cases of sinoatrial node failure, current treatment involves implantation of electronic pacemaker devices, but they have disadvantages, including the recurring need to replace batteries, lack of communication with the autonomous nervous system and lack of adaptation to growth in paediatric patients, which necessitates recurrent surgeries to refit pacemaker wires. Stem cell-derived biological pacemakers could overcome these disadvantages and represent an attractive future therapy.

My lab will be working on refining strategies for the differentiation of pluripotent stem cells into pacemaker cells and developing new strategies for generating additional cell types that are part of the heart’s electrical wiring, such as atrioventricular nodal cells. By using pluripotent stem cells as a developmental model system, we will obtain new insights into human heart development in these projects. We will employ small and large pre-clinical animal models to test the ability of stem cell-derived pacemaker populations to work as biological pacemakers and regenerate the conduction system of the heart. I also plan on establishing new in vitro models for pacemaker diseases, such as congenital heart block, to study disease mechanisms and find novel drug treatment targets.

Why did you decide to stay in Toronto?

I decided to stay in Toronto because during my interviewing process for a principal investigator position, I realized that Toronto has a unique research environment that many other places I interviewed at were not able to offer. Toronto is both stem cell- and regenerative medicine-focused, but also has plenty of great basic research labs. And I started to really like Canadians – eh!

What are you most looking forward to about joining the Medicine by Design community?

I can’t wait to join forces with the other Medicine by Design labs to develop new regenerative therapies. I especially appreciate the interdisciplinary and translational approach of the Medicine by Design program. Since my future plans involve developing a biological pacemaker, I am looking forward to collaborating with the excellent engineering labs in the Medicine by Design community to design 3D pacemaker tissues.

What is one thing people might not know about you from your CV?

I love to balance the brain work we do in the lab with physical workouts like running or by channelling my inner yogi. In fact, I can get quite unhappy if I don’t get my running endorphins.

Miguel Ramalho-Santos, PhD

Canada 150 Research Chair in Developmental Epigenetics
Senior Investigator, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Sinai Health System
Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto
Medicine by Design Investigator
Miguel Ramalhos-Santos
Where did you complete your training?

I earned my undergraduate degree in biology and master’s degree in cell biology at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, under the supervision of Carlos Faro. I then moved to the U.S. in 1997 to complete a PhD in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University, where I was co-advised by Doug Melton and Andy McMahon. After earning my PhD in 2002, I  moved to San Francisco in 2003 to become a UCSF Fellow, an independent research position at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) that is designed as an alternative to a traditional post-doctoral fellowship. In 2007, I became an assistant professor at UCSF, and was promoted to associate professor in 2013. I received a 2008 NIH New Innovator Award and a 2016 Royan International Research Award in Reproductive Genetics.

Tell us about your research.

Our lab is interested in understanding the genome-environment interactions that shape mammalian development and reproduction. Of particular interest are pluripotent cells that exist in the mammalian embryo and give rise to all cell types of the body. Recent work from our lab highlights that such foundational aspects as genome organization, transcription and environmental input are regulated in unique and novel ways in pluripotent cells of the early embryo and the germline.

Why did you decide to come to Toronto?

Toronto is a stellar and very interactive research community in many areas, notably in developmental and stem cell biology. Also, having lived in Portugal for 25 years and in the U.S. for another 21 years, I was ready for a new challenge, and Toronto is an exciting new place to explore.

What are you most looking forward to about joining the Medicine by Design community?

I am looking forward to new interactions that explore the applications of our fundamental insights in stem cell biology towards new approaches in regenerative medicine.

What is one thing people might not know about you from your CV?

I have been a rock drummer since I was a teenager. I also wrote a book about travelling alone to the North Cape (northernmost point of Europe) and did volunteer work in HIV/AIDS and malaria in western Kenya.

Photos of Michael Garton and Miguel Ramalho-Santos provided by investigators. All other photos by Neil Ta