Media Releases

$27-million investment to fast-track stem cell research at U of T

August 25, 2016

Toron­to, ON – Dis­cov­er­ing stem cells here was just the begin­ning. Now, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to is push­ing the fron­tiers of regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine even fur­ther with a $27-mil­lion invest­ment in 20 trans­for­ma­tive projects.

The team projects, which range from attempt­ing to improve fail­ing eye­sight in aging pop­u­la­tions to find­ing bet­ter treat­ments for stroke and liv­er dis­ease, are receiv­ing fund­ing through the university’s new­ly cre­at­ed Med­i­cine by Design ini­tia­tive.

“These projects are bring­ing togeth­er lead­ing life sci­en­tists, engi­neers, doc­tors and com­put­er sci­en­tists at U of T and our part­ner hos­pi­tals to tack­le and solve some of the biggest hur­dles in regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine,” said Mer­ic Gertler, pres­i­dent of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, “I look for­ward to see­ing dis­cov­er­ies emerg­ing from these projects that will trans­form the way we devel­op cures to dev­as­tat­ing dis­eases.”

“In addi­tion to research­ing fun­da­men­tal ques­tions, the Med­i­cine by Design projects include inno­va­tions slat­ed to be ready for clin­i­cal tri­als with­in a few years, as well as enabling tech­nolo­gies with the poten­tial to accel­er­ate their cost-effec­tive imple­men­ta­tion,” said Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-pres­i­dent of research and inno­va­tion.

“They will help strength­en U of T’s rep­u­ta­tion as a glob­al cen­tre in the grow­ing field of regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine and cell ther­a­py, pow­er Toronto’s vibrant bio­med­ical ecosys­tem and — most impor­tant­ly — lay the foun­da­tion for improved out­comes for patients around the world,” he said.

Last sum­mer, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment gave the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to the largest sin­gle research award in its his­to­ry — $114 mil­lion — to sup­port Med­i­cine by Design, which builds on a rich lega­cy of U of T con­tri­bu­tions to regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine, start­ing with the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of blood stem cells by bio­physi­cist James Till and hema­tol­o­gist Ernest McCul­loch in 1960. This dis­cov­ery was instru­men­tal in the use of blood stem cell trans­plants to treat dis­eases such as leukemia.

The fund­ing for Med­i­cine by Design was the first grant announced under the government’s Cana­da First Research Excel­lence Fund.

In the decades since the Till and McCul­loch dis­cov­ery, stem cells have come to be seen by sci­en­tists as poten­tial­ly offer­ing ways to treat — and per­haps cure — a host of dev­as­tat­ing and cost­ly ill­ness­es such as car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, can­cer, dia­betes, blind­ness and neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­or­ders.

Med­i­cine by Design pro­vides a frame­work to design the cells, mate­ri­als and ther­a­peu­tics to reach this goal. It har­ness­es the excep­tion­al exper­tise at U of T and its affil­i­at­ed hos­pi­tals and fos­ters unique mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary col­lab­o­ra­tions to gen­er­ate new dis­cov­er­ies in regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine. Through strate­gic invest­ments and part­ner­ships, it is also cre­at­ing a pipeline from research to com­mer­cial­iza­tion that will enable Cana­da to real­ize the full val­ue of its research advances and bring them to the world.

Glob­al­ly, the regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine indus­try is expect­ed to grow in val­ue to tens of bil­lions of dol­lars in the next five years.

The $27 mil­lion will be shared over three years by 20 teams com­posed of more than 75 researchers and clin­i­cians from diverse dis­ci­plines across U of T and its affil­i­at­ed hos­pi­tals. The fund­ing marks Med­i­cine by Design’s first invest­ment in col­lab­o­ra­tive team projects.

“These projects launch at a very excit­ing time in bio­med­ical research. We are accel­er­at­ing the use of engi­neer­ing design prin­ci­ples and quan­ti­ta­tive bio­log­i­cal mod­el­ling to nur­ture inno­v­a­tive envi­ron­ments where break­throughs will emerge. That’s what Med­i­cine by Design is all about,” said Peter Zand­stra, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Med­i­cine by Design, the Cana­da Research Chair in Stem Cell Bio­engi­neer­ing and a Uni­ver­si­ty Pro­fes­sor in theInsti­tute of Bio­ma­te­ri­als & Bio­med­ical Engi­neer­ing.

Fund­ed projects include research aimed at:

  • Restor­ing vision in patients with age-relat­ed mac­u­lar degen­er­a­tion, led byMol­ly Shoichet, a Uni­ver­si­ty Pro­fes­sor in U of T’s Depart­ment of Chem­i­cal Engi­neer­ing & Applied Chem­istry and the Insti­tute of Bio­ma­te­ri­als & Bio­med­ical Engi­neer­ing, and Cana­da Research Chair in Tis­sue Engi­neer­ing;
  • Gen­er­at­ing func­tion­al liv­er cells and engi­neered liv­er tis­sues from stem cells to study liv­er dis­ease, test new treat­ments and assess new drugs, led byGor­don Keller of the McEwen Cen­tre for Regen­er­a­tive Med­i­cine at Uni­ver­si­ty Health Net­work, and U of T’s Depart­ment of Med­ical Bio­physics;
  • Bet­ter under­stand­ing the cir­cuits that con­trol brain tis­sue growth through com­pu­ta­tion­al biol­o­gy to improve treat­ments for stroke and cere­bral pal­sy, led byGary Bad­er of theDon­nel­ly Cen­tre for Cel­lu­lar and Bio­mol­e­c­u­lar Research and the depart­ments of Mol­e­c­u­lar Genet­ics and Com­put­er Sci­enceat U of T; and
  • Design­ing a new pro­bi­ot­ic bac­teri­um that could help the gut lin­ing renew itself to treat inflam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­eases, led byDavid McMillen, a pro­fes­sor in theDepart­ment of Chem­i­cal and Phys­i­cal Sci­ences at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Mis­sis­sauga.

See the full list of fund­ed projects.

The teams were select­ed through a rig­or­ous com­pet­i­tive process, which involved inter­na­tion­al review­ers and Med­i­cine by Design’s sci­en­tif­ic advi­so­ry board, com­posed of eight glob­al aca­d­e­m­ic lead­ers in regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine.

Med­i­cine by Design also offers New Ideas Grants,Com­mer­cial­iza­tion and Clin­i­cal Trans­la­tion Funds and post-doc­tor­al fel­low­ships.

About the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to

The Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to is Canada’s lead­ing insti­tu­tion of learn­ing, dis­cov­ery and knowl­edge cre­ation and one of the world’s top research-inten­sive uni­ver­si­ties. It con­tributes $15.7 bil­lion to the Cana­di­an econ­o­my every year and has cre­at­ed 61 new com­pa­nies based on research and tech­nolo­gies in the last three years, more than any oth­er insti­tu­tion in North Amer­i­ca.

Estab­lished in 1827, the uni­ver­si­ty oper­ates in down­town Toron­to, Mis­sis­sauga and Scar­bor­ough, as well as in nine renowned part­ner hos­pi­tals.

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Media Con­tact:
Ann Per­ry
Senior Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Offi­cer
Med­i­cine by Design