December 19, 2011 - Toronto, ON
In 2011, scientists at Mount Sinai’s Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute continued to receive international recognition for a wide range of significant biomedical discoveries. Here are some of this year’s leading stories:
In the first study of its kind, Dr. Mei Zhen and her team developed a new concept to explain how directionality of movement is achieved in the model organism, C. elegans. The findings, published in a November issue of Neuron, represent a significant step forward in understanding the motor systems of invertebrates and vertebrates alike, and will shed new mechanistic insights into how motor circuits generate coordinated behaviours and how their dysfunction may lead to motor disorder illnesses.
Drs. Andras Nagy and Jeff Wrana gained important new insight into the process by which normal cells can be reprogrammed into stem cells, which they hope will improve the efficiency of stem cell creation for use in tissue regeneration and in the development of new drugs. The study was published in a September issue of the leading journal Cell. Their work narrowed in on a ‘tipping point’ between an embryonic stem cell’s pluripotency—its ability to develop into most other cell types—and the mechanisms that lead to differentiation, representing a major step forward in understanding the molecular factors and pathways underlying stem cell biology, with potential applications in regenerative medicine.
In August, Dr. Kathy Siminovitch and her team discovered a mechanism by which a genetic mutation can lead to rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other autoimmune disorders including type 1 diabetes, lupus and Graves disease. The findings represent a key initial step in realizing the full potential of genomics and personalized medicine. As reported in Nature Genetics, Dr. Siminovitch identified the exact means by which an alteration in the gene PTPN22 increases risk for RA and other autoimmune disorders. The result: a more accurate understanding of how autoimmune conditions develop, and how new diagnostic tests and targeted therapies can be designed for better symptom control and potential cure.
Other Lunenfeld successes and exciting initiatives this past year included:
Principal Investigator and Lea Reichmann Research Chair in Cancer Proteomics Dr. Anne-Claude Gingras was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women. The only biomedical scientist to be included among the list of Canada’s leading women in their fields, Dr. Gingras is renowned internationally for her studies of protein interactions that play a role in the development of cancer, drug resistance and immunity.
Dr. Tony Pawson, Distinguished Lunenfeld Investigator, Apotex Chair in Molecular Oncology and Kyoto Prize Laureate, received the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance (CCRA) Award for Outstanding Achievements in Cancer Research, adding to a prodigious career marked by milestone breakthroughs in cancer research.
Senior Investigator Dr. Daniel Drucker was the recipient of the Claude Bernard Lecture/Award of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD).The lectureship recognizes an individual's innovative leadership and outstanding contributions in the field of diabetes mellitus, and is the highest scientific achievement award of the EASD. Dr. Drucker is the first and only Canadian to receive this honour.
Senior Investigator Dr. Jim Dennis was awarded the Lloyd S.D. Fogler (QC) Award of Excellence for his pivotal research and understanding of protein glycosylation as well as metastasis (the spread of cancer). A Lunenfeld veteran since the Lunenfeld’s inception in 1985, Dr. Dennis is internationally renowned for his investigations into the cellular mechanisms involved in cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
In March, Mount Sinai opened a new Centre for Regenerative Medicine and Musculoskeletal Research. The new Centre will help advance the research of the hospital’s world-renowned experts (scientists, orthopaedic surgeons and pathologists) in stem cell biology, arthritis, sarcoma, osteoporosis and more. These include Drs. Rita Kandel, Marc Grynpas, Jay Wunder and Andras Nagy, as well as their research teams. The initiative represents Canada’s first collaborative effort involving scientists and clinicians dedicated to discovering and applying new knowledge into bone and tissue regeneration, including the development of biological joint replacements.
This summer, Associate Director of Research Dr. Steve Lye was awarded a $1 million grant to establish a new Institute for Human Development, an initiative he is helping lead to understand how early experiences and the environment shape our individual health and potential. The Institute—centred at the University of Toronto—is expected to become one of the top initiatives of its kind worldwide, and integrates the research of investigators from multiple disciplines and backgrounds to focus on how developmental trajectories impact our lives from the earliest stages of development through to adulthood, with a focus on prevention and health promotion.
Also continuing this year was Mount Sinai’s involvement in the Ontario Health Study, a population-based health study aimed at investigating the factors that increase individual and community risk of developing cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease and other common illnesses. The study, directed by Senior Investigator Dr. Lyle Palmer, is designed to become the largest volunteer cohort study ever conducted in Ontario, and will set the stage for enhanced population-based studies for years to come.