U of T expands research facilities in new partnership with MaRS
Note: These articles originally appeared on the University of Toronto’s website. Articles by Erin Howe and Carolyn Morris.
The University of Toronto will move into the new West Tower of MaRS and will be taking a 20 per cent equity share in the building.
This new space will provide sorely needed laboratories and research facilities.
“This is a big step in our overall commitment to support our students, faculty and researchers in their work solving the most complex and devastating diseases of our time,” says Scott Mabury, Professor & Vice-President of Operations for the University of Toronto. “U of T is committed to translating our research into lifesaving technologies, and this move comes much faster and at less cost than any alternative.”
The partnership solves an urgent need for new research space at the university by capitalizing on the existing building that is ready for occupancy. U of T’s longer term plans involve renewing existing research space as well as building new facilities.
MaRS is also an ideal location — integrating the university even further into the fabric of one of North America’s largest biomedical research hubs. The space brings together researchers from a variety of biomedical and engineering specialties, clinicians, entrepreneurs and industry partners.
“Across our three campuses and in our partner hospitals, U of T researchers play a leading role in the Toronto region biomedical cluster,” says President Meric Gertler. “MaRS provides the context in which together we can make Canada a global leader in biomedical innovation, helping lay the foundations for the future prosperity of our city-region and our province.”
The first U of T groups to move over to the new MaRS tower are the Medicine by Design initiative, the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research, the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine, and the SciNet advanced computing and data analytics centre. Other research groups from the Faculty of Medicine will move to MaRS to enhance existing networks in regenerative medicine, drug discovery and infectious disease.
“It’s amazing the innovation and creativity that happen when you bring people together under one roof,” says Michael May, President and CEO of the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM). His team is currently spread between different floors and he’s eager to bring everyone together in the new MaRS tower.
May knows how even casual conversations among researchers and industry leaders can lead to innovation. He once invented a new biomaterial, which became a core product of his first spin-off company, based on a chance encounter with a U of T professor while on Via Rail. Years later, his work with CCRM involves bringing diverse researchers and an industry consortium of nearly 50 companies together to harness stem cells, biomaterials and molecules to tackle a range of diseases.
The not-for-profit centre takes a collaborative approach to overcoming manufacturing challenges and commercialization bottlenecks in the regenerative medicine field. Its first spin-off company, ExCellThera, will soon be expanding stem cells in cord blood to improve stem cell transplants for leukemia patients.
“We’re making connections that weren’t possible in the past — bringing together biologists, engineers, clinicians, manufacturing specialists and business professionals,” says May. “We’re building a critical mass that is putting Toronto on the radar as a top-tier biomedical research centre.”
Faculty of Medicine Dean Trevor Young says he is excited by the boost this will give to the university’s fundamental science researchers. “This is a great opportunity to help the basic science sector thrive,” he says. “Our researchers will benefit from working closely with the other great organizations at MaRS, and they’ll also be able to contribute their expertise in the design of new therapies.”
The state-of-the art facilities are also a way to showcase the university’s research momentum.
“When people come to our floor in the MaRS building,” says May, “they’ll see highly qualified technicians in ‘space suits’ manufacturing cells in one corner, academic researchers analyzing data in another, and business professionals launching new companies in another. That’s an impressive scene, and it will help us attract and retain the best researchers, companies and investors.”
Meet Michelle Bendeck, bringing collaborative research to life with U of T’s new biomedical hub at MaRS
Two heads are better than one. It’s an old proverb that still rings true — especially when it comes to science, says Michelle Bendeck, a professor with U of T’s Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology.
Bendeck’s research collaborations extend beyond her department, across the country and around the world.
Soon, she’ll have even more opportunities to partner with other scientists for her vascular biology research on home turf. Her lab is one of several that will move in to the MaRS West Tower at the corner of College Street and University Avenue.
“Several of the groups moving in focus on bioengineering. They’ve developed all sorts of cell and tissue model systems to study the strength and mechanical responses of tissues in the disease process,” says Bendeck, who belongs to the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research (TRCHR). “This move will allow us to work closely with them so we can all benefit from one another’s findings and expertise.”
Bendeck and her lab focus on a disease called atherosclerosis — a hardening of the arteries that is the primary cause of heart attacks. She says she is most interested in determining how smooth muscle cells in vessel walls interact with the matrix proteins that surround them, and how signaling between cells and matrix contributes to hardening of the arteries.
Graduate students researching in the MaRS West Tower will also benefit from new opportunities to network with their colleagues in other labs and scientific disciplines.
“I’m definitely looking forward to working with other students from various labs, to have their input on my project, to inspire novel thinking and hopefully develop therapeutics for cardiovascular diseases,” says Amanda Mohabeer, a Master’s student in Bendeck’s lab. She studies the effect of a matrix protein called type VIII collagen on vessel stiffening.
In addition to her research with Bendeck, Mohabeer collaborates with Professors Scott Heximer and Steffen-Sebastian Bolz in the Department of Physiology as well as Professor Craig Simmons from the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering. Heximer, Bolz and Simmons will also be moving into the TRCHR in the MaRS West Tower.
“This move represents a new trend in the way science is conducted at the University of Toronto,” says Bendeck. “It’s really important to bring together large multidisciplinary groups to do research based on a common scientific theme, and the Ted Rogers Centre includes basic scientists and clinician-scientists from Sick Kids and Toronto General Hospital. Coming together like this, working in an environment that fosters communication will make a real difference.”
In addition, the TRCHR, Medicine by Design and the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) will also be moving into the MaRS West Tower’s state of the art labs. They will all share open-concept space, allowing them to collaborate more easily with one another.
Researchers at Medicine by Design work to discover new therapies based on the design and manufacture of molecules, cells, tissues and organs that can help treat degenerative diseases. CCRM’s research aims to find ways to use stem cells, biomaterials and molecules to repair, regenerate or replace diseased cells, tissues and organs.
“Collaboration is critical,” says Bendeck. “In this day and age, no one project can be accomplished by a single scientist or by a single graduate student.”
Understanding U of T’s expanded partnership with MaRS
The University of Toronto announced on September 3 an expanded partnership with MaRS, which will provide much needed laboratory space for researchers. The partnership also takes advantage of the dynamic networks MaRS has developed to support student entrepreneurship and the translation of U of T discoveries into new therapies.
It will become home to several of the recently established inter-faculty research centres, including Medicine by Design and the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research. Overall, it will add more than 160,000 square feet of space to U of T’s vast research enterprise.
Solving the urgent demand for more U of T research facilities
This partnership solves an urgent need for state-of-the-art lab space to support the burgeoning growth in research, most acutely in the area of medical research.
“This is a big step in our overall commitment to support our students, faculty and researchers in their work solving the most complex and devastating diseases of our time,” says Scott Mabury, Professor & Vice-President of Operations for the University of Toronto.
“U of T has had great success in attracting significant philanthropic and government support for strategic efforts at solving serious health problems. This reflects the power and potential arising from the creative efforts of our faculty, students and staff. We need top-of-the-line research lab space to continue realizing that potential.”
The design of these new research facilities will closely follow the wildly successful labs in the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomedical Research. The move into the MaRS West Tower offers the same opportunity for collaborative research space, but comes much faster and at less cost than any alternative.
Leveraging Toronto’s Biomedical Hub
MaRS is an ideal location. It is across the street from the U of T, adjacent to the hospital corridor and right in the middle of North America’s third-largest biomedical cluster. This partnership allows U of T to leverage this powerful centre of innovation and entrepreneurship.
“This is an exciting move for medical research at the University of Toronto,” says Faculty of Medicine Dean Trevor Young. “It allows us to capitalize on the dynamic networks of biomedical leaders at MaRS.”
Providing a Home to New Research Initiatives
MaRS will be home to the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research, which was established thanks to an unprecedented donation of $130 million from the Rogers family – the largest monetary gift ever made to a Canadian health care initiative. The new tower will also host the Medicine by Design initiative, set to become a leading centre in regenerative medicine at the University of Toronto with the federal government committing $114-million for this project through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.
It also provides a home to two existing research organizations: the U of T-based Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine, a not-for-profit organization supporting the development of stem cell- and biomaterials-based products and therapies, and the University’s advanced computing and data analytics centre, SciNet.
“In addition, we’ll have the opportunity to move some of our fundamental science laboratories to MaRS, specifically in the areas of infectious diseases, drug discovery and regenerative medicine. This is a great opportunity to help the basic science sector thrive. Our researchers will benefit from working closely with the other great organizations at MaRS, and they’ll be able to contribute their expertise in the design of new therapies,” says Young.
20 per cent equity share in the MaRS West Tower
The University of Toronto is investing a 20 per cent equity share in the west tower of MaRS. The University will have use of four floors of the new building for health research, biomedical manufacturing and the commercialization of key scientific discoveries.
U of T is one of the four original founding partners of MaRS, including the city, the province, and the federal government. Through this investment, the University will be a full partner in making this research tower a success.
Big step in a larger process of renewal for U of T research space
“This acquisition will provide us with time to plan strategically the renewal of our existing medical science research space, including the site currently housing our Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.” says Mabury. “These buildings are past their prime but are brimming with entrepreneurial innovation, as well as an energetic community of almost two dozen student spinout companies, two centres of commercialization, our Innovations and Partnership Office and the Impact Centre, one of U of T’s nine campus-led accelerators.”
To learn more about the University of Toronto’s facilities at MaRS, read the press release.