Pillars of Health: Innovating for a better future
By: Nida Zafar
More often than not, it is difficult for students to understand what opportunities exist for them once they graduate, Craig Madho said in an emailed interview.
“Networking and mentoring opportunities are valuable as it allows (students) to build a professional network and understand the industry they want to get into” Madho, a Masters Health Science in Translational Research student, says. He adds that networking events “ultimately prime (students) for entering the workforce after graduation.”
University of Toronto’s Translational Research program held its 2nd annual networking event, Pillars of Health, on October 2nd at Johnson and Johnson Innovation Lab, JLABS, at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto. The next Pillars of Health event will be held on February 26, 2018, at JLABS.
The purpose of the event was to promote collaboration in health care by bringing together clinicians, researchers, industry professionals, local start-ups and graduate students particularly from the TRP and the Institute of Medical Sciences.
Students from science and engineering as well as professors from various departments at the University were also at the event.
According to Madho, the ‘Pillars of Health’ can be broken down into four categories: research, hospital administration, industry, and government. Individuals in these categories are stakeholders or actors in the network. With these four categories working together, health systems can be maintained and innovations can be developed that can make these systems better.
“Without interdisciplinary collaboration, it is extremely difficult (to) drive meaningful change.” Madho said. Besides connecting innovators, “the event is largely to help break down barriers and destroy silos.”
One of the many speakers at the event was Patricia Furlong. Furlong is the Founding President and CEO of Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD). The group is the largest nonprofit organization in the United States entirely focused on Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).
Furlong founded the group in 1994, along with other parents whose sons were affected by the disease, after her own sons, Christopher and Patrick, lost their battle against Duchenne at the ages of 15 and 17.
The disease only affects boys. It progressively leads to muscle weakness and an inability to move arms and legs, leading to a young death.
In a 2010 interview with WebMD, Furlong recalls a conversation with her son Christopher. When talking to her son about how she wants “a miracle,” he said “miracles don’t just happen for one or two of us, Mommy. They have to happen to all of us.”
When doctors diagnosed Furlong’s sons with the disease in 1984, she refused to accept that there was “no help” as an answer. She immersed herself in studying this disease in order to understand DMD and how to provide the best care for those diagnosed with it.
“All I ever wanted was to buy five minutes more of life for my sons. I can’t fix everything for families, but I can try to buy them five minutes more,” Furlong said in the 2010 interview.
PPMD’s lobbying efforts resulted in a big change. In 2001, the United States Congress passed the MD-CARE Act, allotting funds for research on DMD.
Because of the funds allotted to research, drastic changes were made.
Boys with the disease are now able to walk into their teens and 20’s, instead of stopping early like Furlong’s sons did at the age of 9.
At the Pillars of Health event, Furlong, along with many others, were there to share their projects. They also provided and created connections with students, allowing them to create a future in which they too design, develop and champion health services that affect the lives of people in a positive way.
Photo Credit: Nakita Krucker