Lab Canada

McMaster recruits top scientist to open cancer institute

Hamilton, ON – McMaster University has recruited internationally recognized scientist in stem cell research, Dr Mick Bhatia, to establish a new institute focused on human cancer and stem cell biology.

Dr Bhatia, who is known for his work understanding the regulatory mechanisms in human stem cells, will become scientific director of an institute for cancer and stem cell biology research. The core funding for the institute will be provided from the gift by philanthropist Michael G DeGroote to the university.

He has made several important advancements in human stem cell research, particularly related to blood forming stem cells. Although he believes stem cells can serve as sources for cellular and organ replacement in tissue damaged by trauma or genetic influences, and for disease intervention, the novel thrust of the institute will be the focus on human cancer, and using human stem cells to understand how cancer begins and how treatment may be revolutionized based on this new knowledge.

“This is a tremendous opportunity, we will be looking at the root of cancer using human stem cells as model systems,” he says. “We know tumours begin years and years before they’re diagnosed: we will look to identify how and what causes stem cells to mutate at that beginning point, thereby understanding the process at its earliest stages for the first time.”

Upon formal approval by McMaster, Dr Bhatia will be a professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences and take a senior Canada Research Chair. He will also hold a new endowed professorial chair in cancer and stem cell biology. He is currently director of the Krembil Centre for Stem Cell Biology at the Robarts Research Institute at the University of Western Ontario and holds a Canada Research Chair in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine there.

He is an alumni of McMaster, having graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1992, followed by his doctorate in human biology and nutritional sciences from the University of Guelph in 1995.

He will officially begin at McMaster on January 1, 2006, but construction has already begun on the 10,000-sq-ft institute based in the new Michael G DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery on campus. The university says it expects the institute will begin with 21 scientists and staff, but will grow to 65 scientists, lab and support staff and graduate students within the first year and form the springboard for future growth and expansion.

Dr Bhatia says that up to 80% of those working in the institute will be post-doctoral fellows who will carry on the work internationally and hopefully be retainable for Ontario, and Canada. “At this stage, the educational focus and training of this research work is essential,” he says.

The financial investment is grounded in $10 million devoted for a cancer and stem cell institute as part of the $105 million gift to McMaster from Michael G DeGroote in 2003. In addition, McMaster is investing $4 million for the laboratory equipment and set-up, along with $3.2 million to support four Canada Research Chair positions.