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Behind the Breakthrough
University Health Network
A podcast about pioneering medical research and the people behind it at University Health Network, Canada's largest research and teaching hospital.
Dec 8, 2021
Dr. Angela Cheung pioneers research on the symptoms and treatment for long hauler Covid patients
Award winning UHN researcher Dr. Angela Cheung reveals how she decided to pivot her more than two decades of research on Osteoporosis to the study of long haul Covid. Along with UHN colleague Dr. Margaret Herridge and a team of researchers across Canada Dr. Cheung has discovered over 100 symptoms for long Covid, that it affects women more than men, but men get more acute symptoms. Dr. Cheung foresees the need for clinical practice – particularly primary care physicians and family doctors will be involved for years to come in the monitoring and treatment of long haul patients.
Dec 6, 2021
Dr. Andres Lozano on investigating DBS to treat Alzheimer’s disease
Imagine that we could rescue forgotten memories. With Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) that may be possible. Originally hypothesized as a treatment for obesity, Dr. Lozano discusses how we use electrodes to upregulate or down regulate the electrical activity in the brain to elicit memories. In a way the hope is that we can use electricity to restore normal brain activity.
Nov 26, 2021
Dr. Babak Taati on pioneering the use of computer vision to help seniors live safer, healthier lives.
Pain is often under-diagnosed and under-treated among older adults, especially those with dementia, who have trouble communicating their discomfort. Additionally, approximately 60 per cent of older adults with dementia suffer a fall each year. Dr. Babak Taati is among a group of researchers in Canada aiming to tackle these problems using computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI). In this episode of Behind the Breakthrough, we learn how Dr. Taati’s work involves using ambient monitoring systems to assess and analyze the movement and facial expressions of older adults to detect signs of pain and predict the likelihood of future falls, all while they go about their daily lives. He also discusses the ethical considerations of ambient monitoring techniques, from privacy concerns to working to eliminate ageism and ableism in the technology used.
Nov 18, 2021
Dr. Joan Wither on searching for the genetic and immune system abnormalities that lead to systemic autoimmune rheumatic diseases
Dr. Joan Wither and her team are working on a series of biological tests that will better predict the progression of systemic autoimmune rheumatic diseases, such as Lupus and Sjogren’s Disease. She discusses the importance of studying patients at various points throughout the disease, whether in a disease-dormant or flare-up state, which creates somewhat of an immune response timeline and profile.
Nov 12, 2021
Dr. Gang Zheng on harnessing the promise of nanotechnology for the detection and treatment of cancer
Nanoscience is the study of the small, the really small. Consider this; a nanoparticle can be as small as one-billionth of a metre. Nanotechnology in medicine is having a moment, with the profile and perception of the approach raised since it played a role in the development of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. But for Dr. Gang Zheng, the science of the very small and how it can be harnessed in cancer care has been a pursuit of passion for years. In this episode, Dr. Zheng talks us through his development of a unique nontoxic nanoparticle, a porphysome, made by combining lipid or fat particles with a compound derived from pacific algae. This so-called Swiss army knife of nanoparticles has the potential to significantly improve the way cancers are detected and treated, from targeted drug delivery to ablation of the tumour from within using light. Dr. Zheng also discusses the importance of collegiality and collaboration in science and the pride he takes in mentoring and training the next-gen of doers and thinkers, who in turn have dubbed themselves ‘Gangsters’ in his honour. And how he remains driven by one goal above all others – to make a positive impact on cancer patients' lives.
Nov 8, 2021
Dr. Jordan Feld on shifting from discovering a pill that cures Hepatitis C to investigating a treatment for mild COVID
The COVID-19 pandemic shocked everyone around the world - even those who study viruses such as Dr. Jordan Feld. In 2015, Dr. Feld led a groundbreaking international trial that made the breakthrough discovery of a pill that cures Hepatitis C. When the pandemic hit, he shifted gears and led another pioneering investigation into a treatment for the Coronavirus using Interferon Lambda. After a successful phase one and two trial, it is currently in phase three with more patients enrolled. Compounding the urgency for COVID-19 treatments, Dr. Feld was juggling the approval process for his trial with the birth of his third son. He touches on the impact the pandemic had on research, how his team maintained a safe environment during the trial and what it means to be a mentor.
Nov 1, 2021
Dr. Catherine O’Brien on the world-first discovery that colorectal cancer cells hibernate like bears to evade chemotherapy
Chemotherapy works by essentially poisoning cancer cells, which grow more quickly than most normal cells, and thus absorb a lot of the toxic drugs. It has been regarded as a standard treatment in cancer care for decades, and can work wonders, especially early in a person’s treatment. But over time, these drugs may stop working. Dr. Catherine O’Brien and her team at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre were trying to figure out how cancer cells apparently become resistant to chemotherapy when they made the discovery that the cells can enter a state akin to hibernation to avoid the toxic onslaught of the drugs. In this episode of the Behind the Breakthrough, Dr O’Brien discusses how her team made this groundbreaking discovery and how it may lead to unique therapeutic opportunities for patients in the future. She also discusses the importance of making connections between different scientific disciplines, and how a Grade 10 career day spent with a female surgeon inspired her to pursue a career in surgery herself.
Oct 25, 2021
Dr. Deepali Kumar on the world first discovery that 3rd dose of COVID Vaccine significantly boosts protection against the coronavirus for transplant patients
Transplant patients are among the most vulnerable populations when it comes to COVID-19. A world-first discovery at UHN’s Ajmera Transplant Centre found that a third vaccine dose for transplant patients shows substantially improved protection. Dr. Deepali Kumar, joint-Senior Author on the study, recalls the importance of this groundbreaking discovery. Plus, she discusses the importance of work-life balance, overcoming obstacles and mentorship in research. She draws on her experience of moving from Saharanpur, a city 200 kilometers north of New Delhi in India to Winnipeg, Manitoba at the age of nine, and the bravery her parents had to make that big, life-changing decision.
Oct 18, 2021
Dr. Beate Sander on the economics of infectious diseases and guiding public health policy during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was Canada’s worst fear in March 2020—CoVID-19 reached the great white north. With increasing case counts and hospital burden throughout the country and in Ontario, government officials were looking to lean on healthcare economists to predict the impact of the pandemic. Dr. Beate Sander’s research highlights the importance of epidemiological modelling and how it guided public policy in Ontario. With the ever-changing data from around the world, her team highlighted the importance of certain measures to stop the spread. She discusses how the pandemic affects certain populations disproportionally. Plus, she expresses the need for better public data infrastructures, reporting, tracking and analytics to be well prepared in the future.
Oct 4, 2021
BTB Season 3 Special Edition with Dr. Brad Wouters, UHN EVP of Science and Research
BTB Season 3 kicks off with a special Covid-19 edition to discuss UHN’s leading edge Covid research and treatment discoveries, the triumphs of basic science to create the vaccines. and - how and when does this pandemic end?
Nov 26, 2020
Dr. John Dick on his famous discovery of cancer stem cells, and the puzzle of research
Dr. John Dick is known internationally for his discovery of blood stem cells. His work has broadened understanding of where and why leukemia starts, and what we could do to prevent it. In this episode of Behind the Breakthrough, Dr. John Dick takes us behind the scenes on his career, building on the pioneering work of Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch—the first to define the properties of stem cells. He delves into the pivotal moments that led to discoveries that have changed the face of cancer research, and why science doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Read more at www.behindthebreakthrough.ca.
1 hr 15 min
Nov 24, 2020
Dr. Mansoor Husain on breakthrough drug for diabetes and heart disease
Almost 20 years ago, a hallway conversation kickstarted Dr. Mansoor Husain’s journey in helping create and test a new diabetes drug that reduces the risk of heart disease. In 2019, the award-winning physician-scientist at the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research and Peter Munk Cardiac Centre published the findings of a landmark trial proving the drug’s safety and reduction in cardiovascular-related mortality, bringing a new therapy into the fold for patients with diabetes – who are two to four times more likely to die from cardiovascular problems than those without it. In this episode of Behind the Breakthrough, Dr. Husain brings the listener into his lab, where he aims to understand more about the molecular mechanisms behind heart disease. He shares how a Nylon experiment in a high school chemistry class sparked his love for science and ultimately led him to medical school, and what keeps him motivated after 25 years as a scientist. “I believe that being in the clinic makes…
Nov 19, 2020
Dr. Alex Mihailidis on helping us live at home longer
The stories patients and caregivers tell of the difficulties managing day-to-day tasks stay top of mind for Dr. Alex Mihailidis, an award-winning scientist developing smart home systems to care for and promote the wellbeing of older adults. From robots who support common household activities, floor tiles that monitor blood pressure and sensors that can send a reminder to turn off the stove, Dr. Mihailidis is alleviating the responsibility of care from the patient and caregiver and putting it into the home. On this episode of Behind the Breakthrough, Dr. Mihailidis journeys through his years of research into smart home technology, with early innovations such as ‘Ed the Robot’ and his current role as Scientific Director of the AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence. Dr. Mihailidis also tells the story of how he became a patient at the Toronto Rehab Institute, the hospital where he works, after surviving a 30 foot fall down a cliff. Having to regain his ability to walk and perform…
Nov 17, 2020
Dr. Ralph DaCosta on a better way to visualize cancer and his serendipitous invention
In 2007, Dr. Ralph DaCosta was in the Princess Margaret Optics Lab researching molecular imaging to better visualize cancer when he made a serendipitous discovery that could revolutionize wound care. Hear about his groundbreaking work in visualizing cancer, his serendipitous discovery that has turned him into an inventor and entrepreneur, and how Terry Fox was the inspiration for his drive to enter cancer research. In his early career he was awarded the Terry Fox Research Foundation’s New Innovator Grant. “I immediately went back to 1980 watching Terry Fox…to come full circle with that is very personally meaningful to me,” he says. Listen to hear about his career path, what it was like to immigrate to Canada at the age of 6, and more.
Nov 12, 2020
Dr. Sonya MacParland on developing the world’s first map of the liver
What attracted Dr. Sonya MacParland to the world of science was the possibility of making a discovery no one else has ever made. It’s exactly what she went on to do – the award-winning scientist at UHN’s Toronto General Hospital Research Institute developed the world’s first transcriptomic map of the liver, triggering a paradigm shift in liver research and therapy. On this episode of Behind the Breakthrough, Dr. MacParland takes the listener through the intricacies of the only organ in the human body with the ability to regenerate itself - the liver. She explains how she and her team mapped the thousands of cells within it, and why they felt it was integral to keep the research open-access for scientists around the world to use as a guide. Dr. MacParland also dives into the personal side of her success as a scientist, sharing how she deals with the failures and pressures of her work and the role mentorship plays in a successful career. “Being able to do science and discover…
Nov 10, 2020
Dr. Heather Baltzer on pioneering hand trauma treatment.
Hand trauma sends more Canadians to the emergency room each year than any other injury, something this episode’s guest refers to as an “unrecognized public health issue.’ Dr. Heather Baltzer joins us to discuss her pioneering research to improve both the treatment and outcomes for people suffering hand trauma, as well as the effect such traumas can have on both the patient and the healthcare system at large. Dr. Baltzer also discusses the importance of mentorship, the role of serendipity in research and recreating The New Yorker Magazine cover depicting an all-female surgical team that turned into a rallying cry for women surgeons around the world. Read more at www.behindthebreakthrough.ca.
Nov 5, 2020
Dr. Pamela Ohashi on revolutionizing cancer treatment with immunotherapy
In this episode, Dr. Pamela Ohashi takes listeners on a journey through groundbreaking advances in immunotherapy, a treatment that activates or triggers your body’s own immune cells to seek out and kill cancer. Dr. Ohashi has witnessed the field blossom into the next frontier in cancer treatment, in part thanks to some of her own discoveries. Listen in to find out what barriers her lab is tackling next, her approach to mentorship, and what she thinks about patients that decide to take part in immunotherapy clinical trials. Read more at www.behindthebreakthrough.ca.
Nov 2, 2020
Dr. Taufik Valiante invents implantable computer chip designed to stop epileptic seizures
Dr. Taufik Valiante joins the podcast to talk about his amazing invention of an implantable computer chip designed to monitor brain waves and stop epileptic seizures before they ever occur. In this compelling and wide ranging interview the award winning UHN neurosurgeon and scientist also talks about burnout in healthcare workers, revealing his struggle with depression and journey to achieve mental wellness. https://www.uhn.ca/corporate/News/UHN_PodCast/Behind_the_Breakthrough/
Oct 29, 2020
Dr. Stephanie Protze on turning stem cells into pacemaker cells
In this episode of Behind the Breakthrough, we sit down with Dr. Stephanie Protze, Scientist at UHN’s McEwen Stem Cell Institute, to hear the story of how a high school class field trip to Dresden, Germany, led her to become an award-winning scientist pioneering the creation of new heart cells to restore the heart's pacemaker function. The ultimate goal — to develop biological pacemakers that one day work better than the electronic devices that are the current standard of care.
Oct 26, 2020
Dr. Brad Wouters on UHN's COVID-19 research, leadership during the pandemic, and anti-vaxxers
EVP of Science and Research and award winning cancer researcher Dr. Brad Wouters on UHN's COVID-19 research, leadership during the pandemic, and anti-vaxxers. https://www.uhn.ca/corporate/News/UHN_PodCast/Behind_the_Breakthrough/
Oct 20, 2020
Season 2…coming soon!
Behind the Breakthrough is back! Join us every Tuesday & Thursday starting Tuesday, October 27, 2020 for a brand new Season featuring the people behind world-leading research at UHN. Our first episode features Dr. Brad Wouters, Executive Vice-President of Science and Research at UHN, with a provocative COVID-19 special, exploring leadership during the pandemic, it’s effects on research and his fears over anti-vax influence when a vaccine is finally found.
Dec 17, 2019
Dr. Donald Weaver's lifelong quest to cure Alzheimer's
In the final episode of Season One of Behind the Breakthrough we hear from Dr. Donald Weaver, Director of the Krembil Research Institute. Dr. Weaver talks about his groundbreaking research into Alzheimer’s disease, and explains how drug research works and the challenges of getting to a clinical trial. He also talks about why his response to questions about “What next?” is a cheery “More failure!,” the purpose of his weekly story-telling in team meetings, and talks about his poetry career.
Dec 10, 2019
Using computers to understand cancer, with Dr. Michael Hoffman
In this episode of ‘Behind the Breakthrough’ Princess Margaret Cancer Centre scientist Dr. Michael Hoffman explains how he leverages the power and speed of computers to understand the origins of cancer. He says cancer is a disease of the DNA –the genetic code that determines our individual characteristics. Essentially, our DNA acts as a program telling our cells what to do. In the case of cancer the wrong program gets run and cells divide in an unrestricted manner. The goal of Dr. Hoffman’s lab is to determine if there is a way of predicting when the wrong program gets run –before it ever happens. We also learn that from age 4 Dr. Hoffman was in awe of the magic of computers, and how he turned his love for computers into a career in the emerging field of computational biology. He also speaks to the critical importance of training the next generation of cancer researchers, and how he views Twitter as a virtual meeting place for scientific exchange
Dec 3, 2019
Pioneering treatments to get spinal cord injured patients mobile, with Dr. Kristin Musselman
Dr. Kristin Musselman is a pioneer in research designed to get patients with partial spinal cord injury up and walking again. She joins UHN’s ‘Behind the Breakthrough’ podcast to talk about her latest research, how it relies heavily on patient input, and the satisfaction of seeing those same patients try new strategies to regain mobility and maintain their balance.
Nov 26, 2019
Reversing blindness and the serendipity of science, with Dr. Valerie Wallace
Dr. Valerie Wallace is on a mission to reverse blindness. The award-winning senior scientist and co-director of the Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute at UHN’s Krembil Research Institute sits down with Behind the Breakthrough to discuss the serendipity of science, the curiosity that drives her and the changing landscape of women in STEM. “If you don’t ask the hard questions, you won’t get amazing answers,” she says. Hear more from Dr. Valerie Wallace about her career, inspirations and why she calls herself an explorer.
Nov 19, 2019
Repairing broken hearts with stem cells, with Dr. Michael Laflamme
In this episode of Behind the Breakthrough, we hear from cardiac pathologist and award-winning principal investigator at the McEwen Stem Cell Institute Dr. Michael Laflamme. His mission: to restore the function of injured hearts by replacing scar tissue with healthy heart muscle cells made from stem cells. He shares why it’s important to put your career aspirations to paper early on, what it’s like to co-found a company that’s been acquired for $1US billion, and why researchers should try to be scientifically fearless.
Nov 12, 2019
Overcoming ‘impostor syndrome’ and helping the elderly live well, with Dr. Jennifer Campos
Growing up, the death of Dr. Jenny Campos’ grandfather from a preventable fall while carrying groceries up a flight of stairs shook her family to the core. Today, it is the driving force behind her research in falls and driving collision prevention in the elderly. By simulating real life challenges in Toronto Rehabilitation Institute’s renowned Challenging Environment Assessment Lab (CEAL), Dr. Campos is finding ways to help older adults live well. In this episode, Dr. Campos delves into her pioneering work with virtual reality and motion simulation technologies, how she has learned to find a work-life balance in academia, and why it’s so important to mentor the next generation of young scientists in STEM.
Nov 5, 2019
Meet the cancer code breaker, Dr. Mathieu Lupien
In the battle to defeat cancer, award-winning UHN researcher Dr. Mathieu Lupien is a modern-day version of the Bletchley Park World War Two codebreakers. Dr. Lupien searches the human genome, trying to crack the origin of how and why cancer starts. He knows deciphering that enigmatic code is one of the keys that will lead to a cure for cancer. He explains how the human genome is like a road map to the inner workings of what makes us, well, us—and the many ways cancer disrupts that journey, and why researchers are now looking at so-called “junk DNA” for the source to cancer’s origins. Dr. Lupien also talks about the Terry Fox loonie he carries in his pocket at all times as a reminder of the commitment and importance of the work done in his lab, how a line in a TV show he watched as a child in Quebec has fuelled his research career,” and his advice for kids who want to go into science.
Oct 29, 2019
Robotics, rehabilitation therapy and learning from failure, with Dr. Milos Popovic
In this episode, we sit down with award-winning scientist Dr. Milos Popovic to hear about his transformational shift from aerospace engineering to rehabilitation research, and how it led to his invention of a medical device that restores upper limb mobility to people with paralysis caused by spinal cord injury or stroke.
Oct 22, 2019
Challenging the meaning of palliative care, with Dr. Camilla Zimmermann
In this episode of Behind the Breakthrough, Dr. Camilla Zimmermann talks about how her research has helped change the practice of palliative care from end-of-life care to a more wholistic approach that answers the question, “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” Dr. Zimmermann refers to herself and her team as “an extra layer of support” to those living with a terminal illness. We hear about how the practice has evolved and the vast potential of a research field that’s still largely in its infancy. Dr. Zimmermann also reveals how the death of her parents when she was a teenager shaped her career, her initial reluctance to admit to colleagues her desire to be a palliative care specialist, and how stigma still hangs on the concept of what is palliative care.
Oct 11, 2019
Chronic pain and scientific baseball, with Dr. Karen Davis
In this episode, neuroscientist Dr. Karen Davis talks to us about pain. What is it? Can we predict it? What does personality-type have to do with it? She touches on her advancements in pain research, and why her and her team are really scientific baseball players. Play ball!
Sep 10, 2019
Heart failure, Artificial Intelligence and a near-death experience, with Dr. Heather Ross
In the first episode of Behind the Breakthrough, we hear from cardiologist Dr. Heather Ross about her pioneering work with artificial intelligence (A.I.), how she handles failure—especially after two rejections from medical school—and how a brush with death brought her closer to her patients than ever before. Dr. Heather Ross is a world-renowned cardiologist, division head of cardiology at Sinai Health System and UHN’s Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC), and director of the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research at the PMCC. Dr. Ross is pioneering research in artificial intelligence to improve the lives of patients suffering heart failure.