When the opportunity to take the reins of one of the premier programs at the University Health Network arose, Dr. Gelareh Zadeh was honoured to be given the task and rise to the occasion.
"Neuroscience is one of the key pillars of UHN," says Dr. Zadeh. "Understanding brain and spine function and developing cures for neurological conditions is among the major challenges of our time.
"Introducing ways in which we can preserve neurological function and brain health for the aging generation today and for the future of our youth is a priority in healthcare.
"Taking on this role offers a tremendous opportunity to set off on an adventure of discovery and building the next generation of neuroscience."
Neuro-oncology, brain tumour biology and skull base surgery are currently among Dr. Zadeh's main areas of focus at UHN. In addition to holding the Wilkins Family Chair in Brain Tumour Research, she is also Head of the Division of Surgical Oncology at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and is a Scientist in the Macfeeters-Hamilton Neuro-Oncology program.
Dr. Zadeh sat down with UHN News recently to discuss her plans and priorities in this new role.
Can you share with us some of the reasons you decided to accept this position?
"The most important asset and strength of our institution is the people who work at UHN. We are the strongest academically-minded healthcare provider in Canada. The distinguishing strength of our membership is that we are an integrated clinical research healthcare team; giving us the potential to define the forefront of any field and an ability to build together across multiple disciplines.
"We have a world-leading neuroscience program. Being able to shape the future of neuroscience at UHN – together with all of the people who make up the Krembil Neuroscience Centre – is a tremendous opportunity. For me it is an opportunity to take a fresh approach: define a new culture for the institution, integrate technology to shape and introduce a paradigm shift in healthcare in neurosciences and other areas, engage talent across the institution to support specialty signature programs, and ultimately leave a legacy that has global impact in the quality of care that we deliver. Stewardship and accountability to our patients and the institution; the resources we are given for healthcare delivery is a necessary priority."
What do you believe are some of the strengths of Krembil Neuroscience Centre (KNC)?
"We have a strong tradition in neurosciences focusing on the brain and spinal cord biology, offering unique expertise internationally – whether that be through neurology, neurosurgery, neuroradiology, neuropathology, ophthalmology and overall neuroscience research. I want to build on the talent that we already have and the worldwide recognition in a number of areas, including movement disorders, musculoskeletal health, vascular disease and interventional neuroradiology, neuro-oncology, neuro-ophthalmology and many more.
"My vision is to integrate innovation, new technology and the expertise of our best physicians and scientists to improve quality of care and cutting-edge management of disease. One of our signature opportunities is that we are a strong research-hospital, with nearly every physician doing research and almost every scientist being involved in better understanding health and disease states. The combination of these talents is the essence that sets UHN apart and with this we can have an exponential impact in improving outcomes for our patients."
How do you see the KNC program at Toronto Western evolving?
"Our brain and spinal cord are central to who we are, yet much remains unknown about their function. Our opportunity is on translational research; molecular medicine and integrative technologies to build the next generation of our understanding of brain and spinal cord function. We have to find ways in which we can detect diseases earlier so that positive interventions can be introduced sooner. Well-being, brain health and mindfulness should be a process and a continuum of healthcare delivery that starts at an early age to avoid aging of the mind and decline in neurological and cognitive abilities"
"Our focus will be to build translational healthcare – and integration of science and technology – early adoption of novel cutting edge technology to advance the level of care in many areas, including intraoperative and diagnostic technology, use of predictive biomarkers, precision diagnostics, molecular analysis and virtual or augmented reality together with big data analytics to define the forefront and future of neuroscience care and well-being of brain and mind.
"Another important focus and strength is education and training of the next generation of neuroscience clinicians and researchers. We will build a recognized brand for excellence in neuroscience education in all disciplines through close collaboration with University of Toronto that will have global outreach."
In addition to accepting this position, you are also Head of Surgical Oncology at the Princess Margaret. Why is it important for you to stay in that role as well?
"The dual opportunity allows building horizontal organizational bridges to integrate and be modular in our approach to programs across UHN. Both are priority programs for UHN and I am committed to the success and advance of our institution, working with so many talented individuals to build seamless and adaptable links across disciplines in the organization. Having knowledge of multiple programs within the institution and outside provides a unique opportunity to cross-pollinate and cultivate strengths from different programs."
Can you tell us about your first impressions of the staff at KNC?
"We have outstanding talent and many individuals who have global impact. The individual members have the power to define the culture of our organization. The obvious membership is all the neurosurgeons, neurologists, ophthalmologists, as well as the staff in ICU, neuroanesthesia, neuro-oncology and neuro-pathology and so on, but then there is a broader community that I hope to engage. To me, having all voices and perspectives heard is a top priority. Face-to-face and one-on-one interactions are key to setting our priorities, identifying where the strengths are, discovering opportunities and thinking of new ways to approach how we work together and how we align with institutional priorities overall."
Is there any particular message you would like to share with staff as you embark on this journey?
"Krembil has benefited from a long-tradition of leadership. With a newfound commitment from UHN we can take it to the next level. I hope to facilitate and lead a shared vision and common priorities to work together as a team to build our international impact; build a signature program with a legacy in the field of neuroscience.
"I look forward to working with all members of the neuroscience community and facilitating ways in which we can grow together, stronger for the next generation of neuroscience clinicians and investigators who will follow our lead."