TR Talks – Leaders Discuss Transforming Research Discoveries to Improve Patient Care

TR Talks – Leaders Discuss Transforming Research Discoveries to Improve Patient Care

Feb 4, 2019
By:  Brianne Tulk, Faculty of Medicine University of Toronto

Leaders in the basic sciences, clinical epidemiology and patient care discussed how best to translate research into new treatments for patients at a recent event presented by the Department of Medicine and the newly established Eureka HUB for Translational Research.

Called TR Talk, the event drew an interdisciplinary audience made up of researchers, clinicians, health practitioners and health innovators. Facilitated by graduate students from the Translational Research Program, it featured a panel discussion followed by smaller group discussions.

The panelists offered diverse perspectives on the barriers of translating research to humans, and also the opportunities of translational research.

“The great questions come from listening to our patients,” said Dr. Gillian Hawker, Chair of the Department of Medicine. Hawker, who has a background as a rheumatologist and clinical epidemiologist, brought perspective from the frontlines of patient care and outlined some of the challenges that surround translating research to inform treatment options.

“Most of my patients have multiple conditions that aren’t represented in the clinical trials,” Hawker said. “The perfect patients aren’t the ones showing up at our doorsteps. Translation is about getting real world data.”

By way of example, Hawker explained that research can illustrate the use of stem cell therapy to treat arthritis, however that research may not be applicable if it doesn’t consider other factors that impact the patient, such as a person’s age, sex, weight or other health issues.

“A translational researcher needs to speak two languages,” explained Dr. Martin Offringa, a neonatologist and professor of paediatrics at U of T. “They need to understand the clinician perspective and the scientist perspective. They walk between different worlds.”

Dr. Ramsey Foty from the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Dr. Thomas Prevot, Program Manager of the Drug Development Program in the Sibille Lab at CAMH, said some of the biggest barriers to translating research is moving it beyond the research paper and demonstrating applications for patients. For Foty, this includes repurposing a common drug for other uses.

“I’m teaching an old drug new tricks,” said Foty. “Some science isn’t ‘sexy,’ but it will make a difference to patients. So, how do you convince the ethics boards, the granting agencies, the pharmaceutical companies, that this pursuit is still worthwhile?”

“There is a barrier in moving your research past publication,” added Prevot. “A translational researcher needs a team of people with diverse expertise to go from discovery to pre-clinical studies, to clinical trials, to commercialization. Translation is too vast to be done alone.”

This TR Talk was one of a series of sessions hosted by the Translational Research Program in collaboration with Health Innovation Hub(H2i) and the Eureka Translational Hub this season. TR Talks are open to the public and are geared towards interprofessional clinicians, researchers and trainees to provoke discussion and community building.

Read the original article featured on the Faculty of Medicine website here.

Found In Translation: If babies can do it, why can’t we?

Found In Translation: If babies can do it, why can’t we?

by: Sandy Marshall

Meet Simon and Ian. They met when they were ~5 months old and over the following months, a friendship grew. They played, read, ate, laughed, giggled, and cried together. They learned to trust, connect, be gentle, and share with each other–all before knowing how to talk.

Trust is the piece that I envy and admire most. Trusting someone with whom you’ve never spoken. And, more impressively, earning their trust.

Science communication is starving for trust. Rival researchers competing for the next publication. Patients asking for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th opinions from health care practitioners. Health care practitioners doubting information from patients and their families.

Fritz and Holton published an article last month, called, “Too much medicine: not enough trust?”1 Tests are being ordered with increasing frequency and the threshold for treatment has lowered.2-4 Fritz and Holton propose that a lack of trust between patients and physicians has led to excess tests and treatment. They point out that ordering extra tests or prescribing extra treatments as a way to build a patient’s trust may have the opposite effect,

“The potential secondary gain of building trust for future encounters is undermined by the dishonesty which accompanies this motive: it is not trustworthy behaviour to manipulate a patient into trusting you by preforming an unnecessary test.”1

I wonder, at what age do we forget how to connect and engage with one another? Does language actually make it harder to be honest and open? Most importantly, how do we build trust?

Fritz and Holton offer continuity and questioning as solutions. Trust builds over time, so continuity of care is crucial. Welcoming questions and acknowledging uncertainty may help, too. Excellent recommendations, but these strategies still sound a bit like chess moves.

In Alan Alda’s book, “If I understood you, would I have this look on my face?”5 he emphasizes that empathy is the key to effective communication. Once we are able to understand how someone else may be feeling and thinking, we can explain what we are passionate about in a way that they will understand and may even trust.

Thinking back to Simon and Ian, I wonder, what if we brought all of the parts of engaging to the table, with the words. What if the next scientific conference you attended was full of eye contact, sharing, and giggles? What if the next medical appointment that you had was jammed with gentleness, patience, and teamwork? Notice your whole body–eyes, hands, gestures, toe-tapping–the next time you communicate science.

Through connecting we might find clarity.


  1. Fritz Z, Holton R. Too much medicine: not enough trust? J Med Ethics. 2018.
  2. Alsan M, Morden NE, Gottlieb JD, Zhou W, Skinner J. Antibiotic Use in Cold and Flu Season and Prescribing Quality: A Retrospective Cohort Study. Med Care. 2015;53(12):1066-1071.
  3. Hensher M, Tisdell J, Zimitat C. “Too much medicine”: Insights and explanations from economic theory and research. Soc Sci Med. 2017;176:77-84.
  4. Klang E, Beytelman A, Greenberg D, et al. Overuse of Head CT Examinations for the Investigation of Minor Head Trauma: Analysis of Contributing Factors. J Am Coll Radiol. 2017;14(2):171-176.
  5. Alda A. If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? (ed First). United States: Random House; 2017.

Featured Image source.

In Loving Memory

In Loving Memory

Before Fran left the TRP student partner presentations on the Thursday before her passing, she announced “That’s a great project.  If you need a partner, I’m interested”.  She was always interested and generous with her time.  She was always willing to help and to engage with students and projects that would help others. That was the kind of woman she was, curious, humble, kind and always there to help.

When we first met, Fran and I spent three hours sharing stories and towards the end of our chat, she said, “Maybe I should take the program instead of being a Mentor”.  And in a way, she was both a student and a mentor.  She attended every presentation, classes and socials, she sat during her summer mentor hours talking with every student who was looking for advice or guidance—about their projects, careers or personal lives.

Fran had to fight to get to where she was, it wasn’t always easy, and it wasn’t always pleasant.  When she was applying for her Ph.D., Fran told me during our very first conversation, her supervisor refused to support her.  He told her that investing in her education was a waste of time and effort, that she would just end up meeting some guy and having kids, that she would never become an academic.  Maybe that’s what made her so kind and giving, and so devoted to students and mentorship—she even apologized (more than once) for planned vacations that conflicted with her mentorship activities.

Fran did get accepted into her Ph.D., and she did meet ‘some guy’ and she did have kids, but she also became a professor, a researcher, an academic and a role model.  And she became part of our community, a mentor and a friend.

Thank you for all your kindness and devotion.  I’m sorry we didn’t have more time together, Fran.  Let’s grab that coffee next time we meet.


Faculty of Medicine Dean’s Article

Faculty of Medicine Dean’s Article

At the end of October, Trevor Young, the Dean of University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine wrote an article for their News publication. He wrote of innovation in healthcare and the various ways the Faculty of Medicine has striven to be a leader in this area. The research discoveries coming out of the University of Toronto fuel application, and the connections within and beyond the Faculty of Medicine facilitates an eco-system of innovation.

Among the infrastructure to drive the application of research are the commercialization support services, accelerators such as H2i, and the Translational Research Program.

“The University also offers more than 80 programs and courses that empower aspiring entrepreneurs to learn more about developing ideas and launching their own business. Among them is the Institute of Medical Science’s Translational Research Program (TRP), which welcomed its fourth cohort in September. This two-year master’s program helps build students’ ability to take discoveries out of labs and apply them in new ways.”

To finish off the article, Trevor Young states that collaboration is integral to innovation and stresses the importance of a network of researchers working together to drive innovation.

Read the full article here.

IMS50 Scientific Day Recap

IMS50 Scientific Day Recap

IMS50 Scientific Day was held on May 9, 2018 and out TRP students, staff and faculty participated in the special day. It was a great day of celebrating student and faculty achievements and hearing about all the exciting research being done at the IMS.

Highlights from the day include over 100 student poster presentations, an engaging IMS50 Panel Event featuring Alumni, Students and Faculty, moderated by TRP professor, Dr Rich Foty, and an excellent keynote address from Stefan-M. Pulst on targeting Ataxin-2 as a strategy for treating neurodegenerative diseases.

The day ended with an awards ceremony and reception – recognizing all the remarkable achievements of our students and faculty over the last year. Click these links to see a full list of the student and faculty award winners. This year, TRP student and Director was recognized.   You can see a more detailed synopsis of the day by checking out IMS’s “Scientific Day Moment” on twitter.


TRP student, Craig Madho, receives three leadership awards

TRP student, Craig Madho, receives three leadership awards

Congratulations to TRP student Craig Madho on winning the Roncari Book Prize at IMS50 Scientific Day! The Roncari Book Prize Honours the memory of Dr. Daniel Roncari. It is presented to a student who has contributed to the academic experiences of graduate students. IMS50 Scientific Day was created to highlight the achievements of students and teachers and to initiate an environment where the two groups can interact.  In honour of IMS’s 50thanniversary, events will be held all year long.

Craig is currently finishing up his capstone project with his group members which looks at how nutritional resources for cancer outpatients can be improved. At the TRP he is an active member of the student social committee and organizing students to fundraise for cancer research through participating in the Princess Margaret Ride to Conquer Cancer.

His leadership skills extend to the IMS community. He is the co-president of the Institute of Medical Science Students Association and co-founder of the groups’ mentorship program. The program’s aim to create a stronger student community. Craig is also a member of the Student Alumni Faculty Engagement committee and contributes to events such as UofT Talks.

In recognition of his contribution to enriching the graduate community, Craig is a proud recipient of two more awards at the University: The Graduate Community Development Fund award (GCDF) and the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award.

The GCDF award recognizes students who go above and beyond in making contributions to the graduate experience. The award was created in partnership with the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto.

The Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award is given to students who volunteer not just at the University, but in the surrounding community as well. Madho was only 1 of 8 students part of the Institute of Medical Science to be given the award

Our heartful congratulations to Craig!