Media Releases

U of T to transform regenerative medicine thanks to historic $114-million federal grant

July 28, 2015

TORONTO, ON — The Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to is set to cement its posi­tion as one of the world’s lead­ing cen­tres for the design and man­u­fac­ture of cells, tis­sues and organs that can be used to treat degen­er­a­tive dis­ease, thanks to a $114-mil­lion grant from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.

“Our gov­ern­ment is invest­ing in research and inno­va­tion to cre­ate jobs, strength­en the econ­o­my and improve the qual­i­ty of life of Cana­di­ans,” said the Hon­ourable Ed Hold­er, Min­is­ter of State (Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy).  “This lega­cy invest­ment in Med­i­cine by Design will har­ness Canada’s strengths in regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine to treat and cure seri­ous injuries and dis­eases that impact every Cana­di­an fam­i­ly while cre­at­ing new oppor­tu­ni­ties for Cana­di­an health-relat­ed busi­ness­es.”

The research grant, the largest in U of T’s his­to­ry, is the first to be award­ed under the Cana­da First Research Excel­lence Fund (CFREF), estab­lished by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment last year. Spread over sev­en years, the fund­ing will allow U of T and its part­ners, which include the Hos­pi­tal for Sick Chil­dren, the Uni­ver­si­ty Health Net­work, and Mount Sinai Hos­pi­tal, to deliv­er a new pro­gram called Med­i­cine by Design. The ini­tia­tive and the new fund­ing build on years of sup­port for U of T’s regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine researchers from fed­er­al grant­i­ng coun­cils, the Cana­da Foun­da­tion for Inno­va­tion and sup­port from the Cana­da Research Chairs and Cana­da Excel­lence Research Chairs pro­grams.

The man­date of Med­i­cine by Design is to under­take trans­for­ma­tive research and clin­i­cal trans­la­tion in regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine, enhance capa­bil­i­ty in syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy and com­pu­ta­tion­al biol­o­gy and fos­ter trans­la­tion, com­mer­cial­iza­tion and clin­i­cal impacts.

U of T Pres­i­dent Mer­ic Gertler thanked the gov­ern­ment for its sup­port of the university’s Med­i­cine by Design ini­tia­tive, and for its lead­er­ship in the advance­ment of glob­al­ly com­pet­i­tive Cana­di­an research and inno­va­tion. He also thanked and con­grat­u­lat­ed all those involved in the project at the uni­ver­si­ty and its part­ner hos­pi­tals. “Our bril­liant researchers and clin­i­cians are doing cut­ting-edge work that is mak­ing Cana­da a world leader in regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine. I applaud them, and all those who helped pre­pare U of T’s suc­cess­ful appli­ca­tion for this his­toric research award.”

“This pro­gram will allow us to take regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine to the next lev­el,” said Peter Zand­stra, a pro­fes­sor in U of T’s Insti­tute for Bio­ma­te­ri­als and Bio­med­ical Engi­neer­ing, Cana­da Research Chair in Stem Cell Engi­neer­ing and one of the researchers involved with the Med­i­cine by Design project. “We’ll be able to design cells, tis­sues, and organs from the ground up, hope­ful­ly with ben­e­fit to patients and ben­e­fit to the Cana­di­an econ­o­my.

“Stem cells offer avenues to treat – and per­haps cure – dev­as­tat­ing and cost­ly ill­ness­es such as car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, dia­betes, blind­ness, lung dis­ease, neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­or­ders, and dis­eases of the blood and mus­cu­loskele­tal sys­tem,” he added. “Med­i­cine by Design pro­vides a frame­work to design the cells, the mate­ri­als and, ulti­mate­ly, the clin­i­cal strat­e­gy need­ed to reach this goal.”

Med­i­cine by Design will allow Cana­da to lead the trans­for­ma­tion of the glob­al med­ical indus­try and become a major inter­na­tion­al sup­pli­er of regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine tech­nolo­gies – a mar­ket that is pre­dict­ed to grow to $50 bil­lion by 2019. The strat­e­gy is expect­ed to gen­er­ate sev­er­al new start-up com­pa­nies and to attract estab­lished inter­na­tion­al com­pa­nies to Cana­da, eager to take advan­tage of U of T’s exper­tise.

The pro­gram will have three divi­sions, Cells by Design (to cre­ate cells whose fate and func­tion can be con­trolled to ensure safer and more effec­tive ther­a­pies), Tis­sues by Design (to cre­ate com­plex tis­sues for use in research, drug dis­cov­ery and replac­ing lost or dam­aged tis­sue in humans) and Organs by Design (cre­ate and repair organs out­side the body and demon­strate how those organs can be suc­cess­ful­ly trans­plant­ed into human patients). The three divi­sions will be sup­port­ed by tech­nol­o­gy plat­forms such as genom­ic engi­neer­ing, immune engi­neer­ing and a pro­gram to man­u­fac­ture stem cells on demand.

Med­i­cine by Design builds on a rich lega­cy of U of T con­tri­bu­tions to regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine, begin­ning with the demon­stra­tion of the exis­tence of stem cells by bio­physi­cist James Till and hema­tol­o­gist Ernest McCul­loch in 1960. As Gertler not­ed, “Their break­through has led to an entire­ly new field of bio­med­ical research; to the won­ders of regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine; to a glob­al indus­try respon­si­ble for many thou­sands of high-tech jobs, and ulti­mate­ly, to bet­ter health and new hope for patients and their loved ones, across Cana­da and around the world.”

Till, who attend­ed the CFERF grant announce­ment, said he is thrilled by Med­i­cine by Design’s poten­tial. “It’s mar­vel­lous that the Cana­da First Research Excel­lence Fund has cho­sen to assign a very high pri­or­i­ty to regen­er­a­tive medicine/stem cells. This announce­ment means that research on stem cells and on regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine in Cana­da will move to anoth­er lev­el and it will be the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to that will pro­vide lead­er­ship for that.”

U of T has a very long and impres­sive his­to­ry of accom­plish­ments, both in bio­med­ical engi­neer­ing and in stem cell biol­o­gy, such as the dis­cov­ery of can­cer stem cells, the devel­op­ment of the first arti­fi­cial endocrine pan­creas, and com­bin­ing liv­ing cells with syn­thet­ic poly­mers to cre­ate arti­fi­cial organs and tis­sues. From 2009–2013, U of T researchers pub­lished more arti­cles than any uni­ver­si­ty in the world except Har­vard in top schol­ar­ly jour­nals for regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine and stem cells, bio­med­ical engi­neer­ing, and cell and tis­sue engi­neer­ing.

More than 50 researchers and clin­i­cians from U of T and its hos­pi­tal part­ners are involved in the Med­i­cine by Design pro­gram, as well as hun­dreds of grad­u­ate stu­dents and post­doc­tor­al fel­lows. Addi­tion­al researchers and grad­u­ate stu­dents will be recruit­ed over the next few years. Med­i­cine by Design’s inau­gur­al inter­na­tion­al part­ners include Peking Uni­ver­si­ty, Tech­nion Israel Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy, the UK Regen­er­a­tive Med­i­cine Pro­gram and Sweden’s Karolinksa Insti­tutet.

Addi­tion­al CFREF grants will be announced short­ly, not­ed Ted Hewitt, pres­i­dent, Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties Research Coun­cil of Cana­da and chair, Cana­da First Research Excel­lence Fund steer­ing com­mit­tee. “The Cana­da First Research Excel­lence Fund has pro­vid­ed Cana­di­an uni­ver­si­ties with an unpar­al­leled oppor­tu­ni­ty to take their lead­ing-edge research and make it the best in the world. This will set them on course to make the ground-break­ing dis­cov­er­ies that will enhance pros­per­i­ty and change the lives of Cana­di­ans and mil­lions around the world for­ev­er,” Hewitt said.


For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact:

Althea Black­burn-Evans
Direc­tor, Media Rela­tions
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
Tel.: 416 978‑2105
Mobile: 416 677‑9617

Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Media Line
Tel.: 416 978‑0100