Our Stories

DOING WHAT CAN’T BE DONE, SINCE 1843.

The University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine has been at the forefront of life-altering medical research for more than a century. Our partnerships across the university and with our affiliated hospitals and global research collaborators create a diverse milieu where our students and faculty learn, explore and discover.

Read about some of our world-changing breakthroughs below.

 

Stem Cell Research

Special Delivery: Stem Cells

When University of Toronto scientists accidently stumbled upon stem cells five decades ago, they inadvertently opened up a brand new field of medicine. The possibilities stemming from these tiny but mighty cells were immense.

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Tony Pawson

A Clear Signal

They say communication is everything. In fact, it’s critical right down to the cellular level. When a team led by Professor Tony Pawson identified how cell receptors transmit the signals that instruct cells to change, it touched on nearly every aspect of medical research and the treatment of disease.

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Michael Ohh and Severa Bunda

Undruggable?

Scientists have struggled to find ways of stopping Ras — a notorious protein involved in many cancers — leading it to be deemed “undruggable.” But by tapping into the “social networks” at play among proteins, researchers at the University of Toronto may have found a way.

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Stanley Zlotkin

A Few “Sprinkles” Provide a Big Boost

In 2001, economic instability and severe winters caused serious food shortages in Mongolia. Parents watched their children eat just basic staples and worried about their health. Due to iron deficiencies, cases of anemia and rickets rose. But in the summer of 2001, hope arrived in the form of a small packet.

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Norman Bethune

Blood Service

As bombs fell and bullets flew, the wounded soldiers lay on the battleground. Without a blood transfusion, they would soon die. Enter Dr. Norman Bethune, a University of Toronto medical graduate serving as a medic in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

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glycemic index

Finding the Sweet Spot

Our parents tell us: "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." A kid in the schoolyard can usually get a laugh reciting: "Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old." These phrases may stick in the mind because they rhyme, but they’re worth remembering the next time you sit down to eat.

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Better Baby Nutrition

'Open Wide' for Better Baby Nutrition

When Frederick Tisdall, Theodore Drake and Alan Brown of the University of Toronto introduced their new creation in 1930, you could say their market “ate it up.” The inventors of Pablum used medical knowledge, business savvy and marketing acumen to ensure babies could get proper nutrition — in-hospital and at home. 

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Racing Toward a Cure

Racing Toward a Cure

Cystic fibrosis affects health in many ways. Better treatments have dramatically improved patient outcomes in the last two decades, but the disease is still the most common fatal genetic condition affecting Canadian children and young adults.

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800 MHz NMR

Seeing the Invisible

We think we know what a protein molecule looks like. Powerful molecular “cameras” give us snapshots of these chains of amino acids, intricately folded into unique shapes. But what if these images we rely on are not as accurate as we believe?

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van der Kooy

Seeing the Possibilities in Stem Cells

Losing vision can be one of the most profound health impacts of aging. The thought of never again seeing the faces of loved ones or another sunrise can be frightening. But Professor Derek van der Kooy has shown it is possible to restore lost sight, and that it may be possible — one day — to cure blindness.

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James Till and Ernest McCulloch

Stem Cells: Bred in the Bone

Researchers James Till and Ernest McCulloch found the first evidence for stem cells — the building blocks of life — in 1961. The breakthrough flung open a door to an astonishing series of medical breakthroughs, which continue today in the field of regenerative medicine.

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bacteria

What if Microbes Were Smarter than we Thought?

Soon after sequencing the human genome, scientists were faced with a new challenge — making sense of it all. It’s one thing to identify all of our genes, and quite another to understand what each of them is doing: which ones are essential for survival and which are dispensable. 

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The Blood Brain Barrier

How to Hit 'Unreachable' Targets

Our brain is well guarded, tucked under the solid armour of our skull and protected by the sturdy blood-brain barrier — an extra layer of cells lined up tightly around cerebral blood vessels, allowing only certain substances to pass through to the brain. It’s a top-notch security detail.

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Wilfred Bigelow

Cold Calculation Keeps Hearts Beating

It takes creative thinking to come up with a good use for hypothermia. Wilfred Bigelow, who graduated from the University of Toronto in 1938, became intrigued with the effect of hypothermia on the body while operating on soldiers in the Second World War.

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Immune system

Teaching “Natural Born Killers” a Thing or Two

Our immune system is filled with powerful weaponry — T-cells, natural killer cells, macro­phages. So when a stealthy villain like cancer is able to slip past our defences, our response has generally been to overlook our internal artillery and go straight to the hired guns of chemotherapy, radiation and surgical scalpels.

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The University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine: International Leadership in Health Research and Education

 Medicine

Founded in 1843, the Faculty of Medicine catapulted onto the world stage with Sir Frederick Banting and Charles Best’s discovery of insulin in the 1920s. In the 1950s, the implantable cardiac pacemaker was invented here. In recent years, the Faculty has led the way in the quest to link genes to disease, having identified genes responsible for muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs, congenital blindness, Alzheimer’s disease, and the T-cell receptor function relevant to immune disease. The discovery of stem cells in 1963 by James Till and Ernest McCulloch, winners of the 2005 Lasker Foundation Prize, heralded the development of one of the largest group of stem cell biologists globally. Also in 2005, the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research was founded as a state-of-the-art biomedical research in functional genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics, stem cell and systems biology, regenerative medicine, and molecular imaging. 

Today, the Faculty of Medicine ranks among the top academic medicine institutions in the world, whether measured in peer-reviewed publications, number of PhD candidates and post-doctoral trainees, or research funding totals. Between 2000 and 2005, faculty had over 20,000 studies published in peer-reviewed journals, and over 179,000 citations. The Faculty has established, in partnership with its affiliated hospitals, internationally recognized academic centres including the Wilson Centre for Research in (Health) Education and the Surgical Skills Centre. Recently, a major initiative in interprofessional education with the five other Health Science Faculties at the University of Toronto has been established.

The Faculty has over 8,000 faculty members and 7,000 students (which includes undergraduate and postgraduate medicine, rehabilitation sciences, medical radiation sciences, physician assistant education, doctoral and professional graduate programs), and with its hospital partners, the University of Toronto is the largest research entity in Canada, and one of the largest in North America, spending some $3 million per day fostering new knowledge. The award-winning faculty, supported by almost $800 million in research funds, constitute a powerhouse of research and many are world experts in their fields.

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