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Unity Health Toronto recently named its inaugural four scientific pillar directors of research. These directors are the leads for the four research pillars: Organ Injury and Repair, Urban and Community Health, Critical Care, and Brain Health and Wellness.

We sat down with each director to learn more about their background, their research and their hopes for the future of this research area.

Dr. Andras Kapus: Can we find new treatments for organ scarring besides transplantation?

Organ scarring is responsible for roughly 40 per cent of deaths in the developed world, yet the only known therapy is transplantation, which is extremely expensive and tough on patients, says Dr. Andras Kapus, scientist at the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science and director of the Organ Injury and Repair Pillar.

Kapus says long term goals for this pillar include developing a better understanding of the mechanism behind organ scarring, finding new treatments for scarring and fibrosis, and developing better diagnostic tools to diagnose organ scarring earlier.

“We would like to find much better therapies than transplantation, and we would like to do that, possibly, in the domain of drug development,” he said.


Dr. Tara Gomes: Building on a history of serving marginalized communities

Dr. Tara Gomes, scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, leads the Urban and Community Health Pillar and her own research focuses on the drug toxicity crisis. Leading this research pillar at Unity Health Toronto is exciting, as it allows a diverse group of scientists and researchers to collaborate, as well as engage community members, to impact meaningful policy change across Canada, she says.

“Unity Health has a longstanding history of serving urban and marginalized populations, both clinically and in research,” she said. “An example of this is the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions, which has a history of being at the forefront of this work, and has allowed us to attract the best and brightest in this field.”


Dr. Andrew Baker: How we can continuously improve critical care?

“I truly believe Unity Health is one of the most exciting places to do critical care research in the world, says Dr. Andrew Baker, scientific research director of the Critical Care pillar and chief of critical care and of anesthesia at St. Michael’s Hospital.

“The level of research here puts us on the map among a handful of top sites globally.”

In the field of critical care, Unity Health has become a leader in research on mechanical lung ventilation, building international networks of clinical trials, blood-related research on clotting and transfusion, and the development of a biobank, he says. 

Looking ahead, he hopes to blend critical care research with the work Unity Health is doing in artificial intelligence.

“My hope is that not only will this help our research in diagnosis and treatment, but that we will embed principles of equity and access in that artificial intelligence paradigm, so that will improve critical care for all,” he said.


Dr. Tom Schweizer: How can we detect brain injury and disease earlier?

Data show that one in three Canadians will be impacted by a brain injury, disorder or disease in their lifetime. As such, research on brain health is critically important, says Dr. Tom Schweizer, Unity Health’s scientific director of the Brain Health and Wellness pillar.

Schweizer focuses his own research on advanced neuroimaging techniques that can detect changes in brain structure and function that arise after traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke and dementia.

“We all have family or know somebody that’s been affected by a brain injury or a brain disorder or disease,” he said. “The goal, ultimately, is to refine our diagnostic tools so we can identify changes in cognitive and real-world functioning as early as possible, so we can better treat and improve patient quality of life.”

Schweizer is excited to lead the Brain Health and Wellness pillar and build connections between researchers of different backgrounds and disciplines.

“If people are interested in research, in particular clinicians, allied health professionals and scientists, my job is to help facilitate their ideas,” he said.


By Marlene Leung

Video production by Marlene Leung, Kaitlin Jingco and Anna Wassermann