Toronto, ON February 27, 2003 The inaugural director of the McLaughlin Centre for Molecular Medicine, wants to bridge the gap between research advances in the basic sciences and clinical practice. Dr Keith Stewart has been named director of the MacLaughlin Centre for Molecular Medicine at the University of Toronto (U of T) and the University Health Network.
“There’s a lot of great basic sciences research being conducted in Toronto and there are a lot of extremely talented physicians in teaching hospitals. But there has not been great success in bringing these two together,” says Dr Stewart, a professor at U of T’s medicine department and a hematologist at Princess Margaret Hospital, University Health Network.
“I’m a clinician,” he says. “I understand research but predominantly I’m a clinician and my research looks for ways to make health care better. For me, the goal of this centre is to try to address that gap. Although work in understanding yeast genetics is important, my own interest is in how we can take that information and turn it into a therapeutic use for patients.”
The McLaughlin Centre for Molecular Medicine was established in 2000 with a C$50 million gift from the R Samuel McLaughlin Foundation. Sam McLaughlin, one of Canada’s automotive pioneers and a fierce proponent of medical research, instructed that the foundation give away its remaining funds 50 years after it was established. The McLaughlin Foundation was persuaded to support U of T with their final major gift by the university’s vision: To advance the basic biomedical sciences of genetics and molecular biology and translate them into new strategies for disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
The contribution was matched by $50 million from five partners U of T’s Faculty of Medicine, the Hospital for Sick Children, Mount Sinai Hospital, Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre and the University Health Network – to create the equivalent of a permanent endowment of $100 million. The Ontario Innovation Trust gave an additional $50 million to support labs and equipment.
Dr Stewart attended medical school in Aberdeen, Scotland, and completed his internship at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary where he was involved in the earliest clinical experiments with bone marrow transplantation. After a residency in internal medicine at Queen’s University in Kingston, he went on to train in hematology at U of T. After a two-year MRC Research Fellowship at the New England Medical Center in Boston, he returned to U of T’s Faculty of Medicine in 1992. Since 1999, he has held the J Gerald Scott/David G Whitmore Chair in Haematology and Gene Therapy Research.
With a specialty in blood cancers, Dr Stewart’s interest in translational research was stimulated by exposure to the use of bone marrow transplantation in the treatment of multiple myeloma. In 1995, he led a clinical trial that involved introducing new genetic material into bone marrow cells using a virus. Since then, his research team has worked at targeting various cancers using the common cold virus to deliver genes that stimulate the immune system essentially a cancer vaccine.
Dr Stewart believes there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way physicians are trained to treat patients and he believes the centre can act as a catalyst for that change. “We need to start at the undergraduate level with enhanced programs in training in molecular medicine," he says. "A large part of the centre will be focused on education and training. Another aspect will be to implement advances in genetics and human genome research as they apply to medical care.”