8th Annual Symposium - Intentional Innovation

Helen Blau
Helen M. Blau, PhD, 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.

Sarah Crome
Dr. Sarah Crome is a Scientist at Toronto General Hospital Research Institute and Ajmera Transplant Centre at UHN. She completed her PhD at the University of British Columbia and her postdoc in Immunology and Immunotherapy at Princess Margaret Cancer Center at UHN.

The Crome Lab is focused on defining the role of tissue-resident immune cells in human immunology, transplantation and immune tolerance. Dr. Crome is a Medicine by Design New Investigator and leads a Medicine by Design Pivotal Experiment Fund project developing first-in-class immune cell therapy using innate IL-10 producing lymphocytes for a wide variety of indications.

James Dowling
Dr. James Dowling is a clinician-scientist focused on gene discovery and therapy development for childhood muscle diseases. He is a staff clinician and senior scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children and a Professor of Paediatrics and Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Dowling received his BSc and MSc from Yale University and his MD/PhD from the University of Chicago. His PhD work was performed in the laboratory of Elaine Fuchs. He did his residency in child neurology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and completed postdoctoral research with Jeff Golden (UPenn) and Eva Feldman (University of Michigan). Before coming to Toronto, he was an assistant professor at the University of Michigan from 2009-2013.

Dr. Dowling’s clinical expertise is in childhood neuromuscular disorders. His research examines questions of disease pathogenesis and therapy development for congenital myopathies. In addition to his research program, he currently serves as chair of the executive board of TREAT NMD and is an executive board member of the World Muscle Society.

Jack Hickmott
Jack earned his PhD at the University of British Columbia in 2018 where he studied gene therapy approaches to treat rare ocular disorders. After completing his PhD, Jack did a post-doctoral fellowship at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, where he worked on a pulmonary gene therapy for Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency and developed new technologies to enhance gene expression from synthetic gene expression cassettes. Returning to Canada, Jack joined the Morshead Lab in Nov 2022 where he is exploring novel gene therapy approaches to reprogram astrocytes into neurons in preclinical mouse models of brain injury/disease with the goal of enhancing neural repair.

Omar F. Khan
Professor Khan is the Canada Research Chair in Nucleic Acid Therapeutics. He earned his B.A.Sc. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry from the University of Toronto, and his academic supervisor was Professor Michael V. Sefton. He later joined the laboratories of Professors Daniel G. Anderson and Robert Langer as a Postdoctoral Associate in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Professor Khan was the Scientific Founder and Chief Scientist of Tiba Biotech, a Boston-area company spun out from his postdoctoral research. He also co-founded the OFK Lab spinout Azane Therapeutics with his graduate students. As an mRNA nanotechnology and vaccine expert, he is regularly featured in television, radio and print news. His early career focused on the creation of three dimensional organoid models and engineered tissue substitutes. This work evolved to include the development of nucleic acid-based platform technologies and novel biomaterials to study the genetic mechanisms of diseases and create RNA-based therapies. Now, Professor Khan endeavors to contribute to Canada’s growing research-to-translation ecosystem by creating new regenerative medicine-enabling technologies, and training highly qualified personnel capable of addressing diverse local and global bioengineering needs. Outside of work, he loves swimming, cooking, and family time with his wife and two babies.

Michael Laflamme
Dr. Michael Laflamme is the Robert McEwen Chair in Cardiac Regenerative Medicine, Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine, Senior Scientist in the McEwen Stem Cell Institute, Staff Pathologist in the Laboratory Medicine Program at the University Health Network (UHN), and Professor of Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology at the University of Toronto. He leads a research program that is focused on developing novel cardiac cell therapies based on human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs), and his laboratory has made a number of important contributions in this area including efficient protocols to guide hPSCs into cardiomyocytes, proof-of-concept transplantation studies with hPSC-derived cardiomyocytes in preclinical models, and the first direct demonstration that hPSC-derived cardiomyocytes can become electrically integrated and activate synchronously with host myocardium in injured hearts. Dr. Laflamme has been the recipient of honors including the Society for Cardiovascular Pathology Young Investigator Award, the American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy Outstanding New Investigator Award, and the UHN Inventor of the Year. He also practices cardiovascular and autopsy pathology and is a founding investigator of BlueRock Therapeutics.

Julius Landas
Julius Landas is a PhD Candidate in the Zúñiga-Pflücker laboratory at the Sunnybrook Research Institute. His doctoral work aims to develop a protocol to generate CD4 T cells from the in vitro differentiation of hematopoietic stem cells. He previously studied at the University of British Columbia, where he acquired his bachelor’s degree with the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Derrick Rossi
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.

Molly Shoichet
Molly Shoichet is a University Professor in the Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Chemical Engineering and the Scientific Director at PRiME at the University of Toronto. Dr. Shoichet received her PhD in Polymer Science and Engineering from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and spent three years as a Scientist at CytoTherapeutics Inc.

Her research is focused on advancing the basic science and enabling technologies of tissue engineering and drug delivery. Dr. Shoichet leads a Medicine by Design project evaluating the use of material exchange to facilitate endogenous repair in cell based retinal therapy

Craig Simmons
Dr. Craig Simmons is a Distinguished Professor in the Insitute of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto, and the Scientific Director of the Translational Biology and Engineering Program at the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research.

Craig received his and Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and completed his postdoctoral training at University of Michigan and Pennsylvania. Dr. Simmons’ lab aims to discover new treatments for heart valve, heart muscle, and blood vessel diseases, including developing approaches to regenerate cardiovascular tissues using stem cells and biomaterials.

Xuetao Sun
Xuetao Sun is a research associate working in Dr. Sara Vasconcelos lab, Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, University Health Network. His research interest is to develop a rapid and effective revascularization strategy in ischemia with a specific focus on the vascularization of the infarcted myocardium using native fragments of adipose-derived microvessels.

Fiona Watt
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.

Peter Zandstra
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.