humans to salmon to horses to apples - work.
learning offers an excellent opportunity for students and faculty
to move beyond the traditional boundaries of an academic discipline":
Glen Jones, OISE/UT
"Over the past number
of years, scientists worldwide have been sequencing all the genes in the
cells of humans and many other organisms," says Friesen, one of the key
U of T players in the creation of the CCBR. "This work has been extremely
important and it has opened a floodgate of knowledge that has already
led to a number of major discoveries. We know the details of all human
genes, but we still don't know how they affect cell growth and disease.
It's a case of the more we know, the more we want to know. There's an
urgent need now to mine this mountain of new information to get to a higher
level of understanding."
To fill this gap,
says Friesen, science must understand how the products of genes - proteins
- do their work. "The key is to realize that a living system is complex.
It is not based on one component. There are many pieces, all interacting
and working together. Scientists have not mastered these interactions
yet. So that is our goal with the CCBR - to look at living systems at
the molecular and cellular levels and to integrate this knowledge. Once
we understand these interactions, we can begin to understand the actual
origins of disease. For example, how cystic fibrosis or Alzheimer's disease
actually start. We only have the most rudimentary understanding of this
now. We need to know more."
With this knowledge,
adds Professor Cecil Yip, Vice-Dean, Research in U of T's Faculty of Medicine,
"we can begin designing a whole new range of drugs, vaccines and innovative
therapies to treat disease and, hopefully, to keep people from getting
certain diseases in the first place. But there is a tremendous amount
of work to do first."
Friesen and Yip believe
that the CCBR can meet these challenges. Since the "New Biology" takes
a wide, comprehensive view of all the components of living systems, Friesen
and Yip feel that the only way to achieve this deeper understanding is
to conduct research from a variety of angles.
That is the essence
of the CCBR. "You hear the term 'multidisciplinary' around universities
a lot," says Yip. "But the CCBR will take teaching and training to a new
level through its innovative approach to research."
In that sense, approximately
70 investigators, with their research teams and graduate students, will
work side-by-side in the CCBR and in close proximity to other research
centres. They will come from a multitude of disciplines - engineering,
biomedical sciences, pharmaceutical sciences, chemistry, physics, computer
sciences, botany, zoology, electrical and chemical engineering and others
- and will be melded into a kind of scientific stew where, as Yip says,
"we will have new and unusual combinations of science colliding. Our goal
is to have all these different thinkers literally bumping into each other
and exchanging ideas."
To speed up this
"collision," two approaches will be used. First, the scientific home will
be constructed just behind the current Medical Sciences Building on U
of T's downtown St. George campus. Inside, there will be as few physical
barriers between scientists as possible. "Scientists and their research
teams are now located across U of T's three campuses and in the hospital
research institutes," says Friesen. "This scientific breadth is one of
the strengths of the U of T research community. Still, to develop the
knowledge we are pursuing at the CCBR, we need to get researchers from
diverse disciplines physically next to each other, in an environment where,
for example, a computer scientist, a molecular biologist, and a chemical
engineer can exchange and debate ideas on the spur of the moment. The
design of the CCBR will not only put teams of investigators in the same
building, but the labs will be as 'open concept' as possible so there
will be every incentive for interaction and cross- fertilization of ideas,
knowledge and methods."
The second approach
is a programmatic structure. Research teams will pursue their investigations
along five programs, which represent new areas of research into cellular
and biomolecular science. The programs are: Proteomics and Bioinformatics,
Protein Structure, Animal Models and Mechanisms of Human Disease, Cellular
and Molecular Bioengineering, and Cellular and Molecular Functional Imaging
The CCBR is part of
a growing number of new university-based research centres studying complex
living systems. In the past 18 months, Stanford, Harvard, Caltech, Chicago
and Johns Hopkins all have announced similar initiatives using a multidisciplinary
approach. The leaders of these centres share the belief that research
programs that integrate specialists from a variety of backgrounds are
the only way to understand how all the parts of a living system intermingle.
"The convergence of chemistry, physics, biology and engineering is upon
us," said Lucy Shapiro, a developmental biologist at Stanford, in Science
magazine's April 1999 issue.
Harold Varmus, director
of the National Institutes of Health in the U.S., also believes that a
blurring of the lines between many disciplines is essential in the New
Biology. "New technologies and new knowledge have recently revolutionized
our abilities to understand normal biological functions and disease. A
broad array of scientific disciplines made this revolution, and that consortium
is now required more than ever if we are to follow the new paths."
The CCBR - which
is being funded through the federal government's Canada Foundation for
Innovation, the Province of Ontario, U of T and a variety of other public
and private sources - will be the first of its kind in Canada and will
serve as a hub of a national and international effort in this area of
research. "The CCBR will be a centre of expertise and innovation for Canada
and it will be linked to international research networks," says Yip. In
addition to the involvement of scientists based at several teaching hospitals
affiliated with the University of Toronto, Yip anticipates that investigation
could be linked to research being done at the University of British Columbia,
McGill University, the B.C. Cancer Institute, the Montreal Biotechnology
Institute, the Saskatoon Plant Biotechnology Institute, Halifax's Marine
Biology Institute and many of the federal Networks of Centres of Excellence
across the country. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies in Canada
and around the world will also be involved.
"The greater the
diversity of people and organizations involved with what is being done
at the CCBR, the greater the chances for us to develop research that can
truly break new ground," says Yip.
While the science
that will be created through the CCBR is vital, the centre will serve
a variety of other important purposes. As Heather Munroe-Blum, Vice-President,
Research and International Relations says,"The CCBR is not a biotechnological
institute alone, but a forward-thinking academic research centre that
will draw on superb scientists and researchers and develop and grow the
next generation of talent. The involvement of graduate students is vital.
Our primary goal in everything we do here is to grow talent by creating
a better research and learning environment than exists anywhere in the
world. That's a central component of the CCBR - it will be a classroom
like no other for students and scientists alike."
research and teaching approach is taking hold across U of T through other
new initiatives such as the Munk Centre for International Studies (set
to open in the spring of 2000) and the Centre for Information Technology,
which is currently being constructed.
The CCBR will provide
hands-on training for approximately 200 graduate students and 100 post-doctoral
fellows. The educational program created through the CCBR will offer new
spins on current graduate programs in genetics, biochemistry, biophysics,
pharmaceutical sciences and biomedical engineering. A new academic program
in Proteomics and Bioinformatics has already been created, with input
from the Faculties of Applied Science and Engineering, Medicine, and Arts
learning approach is applauded by Professor Glen Jones, Associate Professor
of Higher Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT).
"A learning environment
is at its most effective when the people participating in it are exposed
to a variety of disciplines and points of view. Multidisciplinary learning
offers an excellent opportunity for students and faculty to move beyond
the traditional boundaries of an academic discipline," says Jones, who
is also Chair of OISE/UT's Department of Theory and Policy Studies in
Education. "This kind of approach promotes the sharing of knowledge acquired
from different perspectives and can lead to new levels of innovation and
creativity. So there are
a number of positives that can be derived from a multidisciplinary learning
and research environment." Adds James Friesen, "One of the great benefits
of the CCBR is that it is a mechanism for renewal. Because we're looking
at 'new' science, change is a key element of the research and training
program. The research that will be conducted in the CCBR will be truly
leading-edge, so over time the people and direction of the programs will
be completely different from who and what we have now."
Regeneration is essential
for Canada, says Munroe-Blum. "Canada's greatest asset is its people.
We must grow and keep great minds here and attract new ones, both faculty
and students. This isn't just an issue for universities, it's a challenge
for the whole country. Canada has every opportunity to be a world leader
in this transformative research field. But if Canada is going to compete
with research powers like the U.S., we need talented people. The way we
attract these people is really quite simple - by providing excellent research
facilities in a dynamic research-teaching environment. That is the CCBR.
If you want world-class people, you need to give them world-class opportunities."
- Paul Fraumeni