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Toronto Rehab welcomes new vice president of research


Toronto, ON September 29, 2003 Rehabilitation researcher Dr Geoff Fernie, who has pioneered innovative technologies for helping people with disabilities and their caregivers, has been appointed vice president of research at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.

Dr Fernie has transferred research outcomes into products and changes in clinical practice. A biomedical engineer by training, he has invented numerous assistive devices and technologies to help people with disabilities overcome the day-to-day challenges they encounter, especially in later life.

A professor in the department of surgery at the University of Toronto, Dr Fernie also holds cross appointments including the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, the Graduate Department of Rehabilitation Science and the Departments of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Exercise Science. He was most recently director of the Centre for Studies in Aging at Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre.

“This is an incredibly exciting time for rehabilitation research,” says Dr Fernie, who will oversee the continued growth of Toronto Rehab’s rehabilitation research enterprise. “The field is rapidly gathering momentum and producing tangible results that are improving the quality of life of people who are experiencing the effects of illness and injury.”

As a fully affiliated teaching and research hospital of the University of Toronto, Toronto Rehab is “on the way to becoming an international leader in rehabilitation research,” he adds. “In coming years, our researchers will have an extraordinary impact producing new technologies, improving treatments and finding ways to prevent problems that require people to seek rehab in the first place, such as falls among the elderly.”

Among his many honours and awards, Dr Fernie was the 2002 recipient of the Dr Jonas Salk Award for “outstanding achievements in development technologies that ameliorate numerous physically disabling conditions.”

He and his team have created a wide range of products, including devices to assist older people in day-to-day living. Among their inventions: a simple device that increases the height of a toilet easily and discreetly; a powered wheelchair that can move in all directions including sideways, making it easier for people to manoeuvre in tight spaces; and a battery-powered patient lift to help caregivers move patients without injuring themselves.

Dr Fernie has published around 100 peer-reviewed journal papers and book chapters, and 16 families of patents. He has successfully taken six products to market and played a key role in starting companies, financing and commercialization.

In addition to organizing conferences and workshops, Dr Fernie is currently a member of the Advisory Board of the Institute on Aging of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. His other committee roles include the Medical and Assistive Devices Consortium of Ontario and Western New York, and the Veteran’s Administration Research Center in Atlanta. He is an executive member and team leader of the Ontario Rehabilitation Technology Consortium.

Dr Fernie has a PhD in Bioengineering from the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, and a BSc (Honours) in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Sussex, England. He first became interested in bioengineering and rehabilitation as an undergraduate when he worked at a combination school and hospital for children with disabilities.

After completing his PhD in 1973, Dr Fernie joined the University of Toronto’s department of surgery and was appointed research director at West Park Hospital in Toronto. In the following years, he also took on primary and cross appointments at the University of Guelph, George Brown College and Toronto General Hospital, where he was associate director of the Orthopaedic Biomechanics Laboratory from 1984 to 1989. In 1986, Dr Fernie was appointed director of the Centre for Studies in Aging at Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre.

In taking on the position as vice president of research, Dr Fernie replaces Dr. Jack Ivan Williams, who retired in June 2003.