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Science in the 6ix
Presenters at Wednesday night's "Science in the 6ix" (L to R): Jimmy Qiu (Techna), Dr. Nicole Woods (Michener & TIER), Dr. Taufik Valiante (Krembil Brain Institute), Dr. Stephanie Protze (McEwen Stem Cell Institute), Dr. Bastien Moineau (KITE Research Institute - Toronto Rehab), Dr. Beate Sander (Toronto General Hospital Research Institute), Dr. Shane Harding (Princess Margaret Cancer Centre) (Photo: UHN)

The first "Science in the 6ix" event featured up-and-coming UHN researchers and a packed house.

Nearly 200 members of the media, the public, donors and patients filled the BMO Conference Centre at Toronto Western Hospital Wednesday night to hear about the promising work of seven UHN scientists in a TED Talk-style event meant to inform and engage people about the impact of science in our society.

"All new knowledge is valuable – and that which can be translated into helping people and communities demands rapid uptake and demonstration," Dr. Kevin Smith, UHN President & CEO, told the crowd.

"UHN is proud to be pushing the limits of care, research, education and innovation through the pursuit of knowledge."

UHN is Canada's largest research and teaching hospital with more than a thousand scientists and over a million square feet of research space. That's the size of 20 football fields packed with wall-to-wall laboratories.

The evening was emceed by CBC radio host Mary Ito.

André Picard, award-winning health reporter and columnist from The Globe and Mail, gave a keynote address, speaking passionately about the need for scientists to better communicate their work to the public.

"Canadians give $10 billion each year in philanthropy but less than half goes to research," he said. "That's why it's so important to get your research out there, to tell Canadians why it's important."

Science in the 6ix logo

Each "Science in the 6ix" presenter was tasked to give a three-minute, elevator-style pitch about their work, using imagery and storytelling, rather than scientific graphs and charts, to appeal to a broad audience. The goal of the evening was to bring science out of the lab and into the community.

"What keeps me going is my curiosity and the motivation to improve treatments for the millions of patients living with heart disease in Canada and worldwide," said Dr. Stephanie Protze from the McEwen Stem Cell Institute, who is using pluripotent stem cells to develop a biological alternative to electronic pacemakers.

Dr. Protze was followed by Dr. Bastien Moineau from the KITE Research Institute at Toronto Rehab. He is developing smart clothing using functional electronic stimulation, or built-in electronics, to help people living with paralysis improve their mobility.

Dr. Shane Harding from Princess Margaret Cancer Centre is looking at how combining immunotherapy and radiation therapy may be a more effective treatment for cancer patients.

"In the end, we hope to make our treatments better at killing cancer while helping patients live without side-effects," he said. "This is a challenging goal, but those that are worth pursuing always are."

New treatments depend on this work

The Krembil Brain Institute's Dr. Taufik Valiante, whose fascination with Star Wars and all things sci-fi led him down the research path, talked about a device he's working on that can be implanted in the brain to stop seizures.

Dr. Beate Sander from the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Infectious Diseases, spoke about her work using modelling to analyze the economic impact of infectious disease outbreaks.

"We use computer simulation to recreate reality, just like VR or video games such as SIM city," she said. "Our work can inform policy decisions for millions of people."

Techna's Jimmy Qiu spoke eloquently about the potential of bridging the divide between engineering and healthcare. His team is working on combining traditional medical imaging with new technologies, such as augmented reality, to help surgeons and medical teams with agility and precision in the OR.

Dr. Nicole Woods, an education scientist and Director of Operations at The Wilson Centre at UHN, talked about restructuring medical school curriculum to improve patient outcomes.

"The right type of education can change your entire life," she said. "The idea that I can change the training of a physician that will then move forward to change the care of a patient is huge."

The evening wrapped up with passionate closing remarks by Dr. Bradly Wouters, Executive Vice President, Science & Research at UHN.

"If you are satisfied with current treatments for diseases such as heart disease, cancer and epilepsy, then we don't need research," Dr. Wouters told the audience. "But if you do want new treatments and eventually, cures, for these diseases, then we have to do this work."

"Science in the 6ix" was sponsored and organized by the Krembil Research Institute, the research arm of Toronto Western Hospital, dedicated to the discovery and development of treatments for disorders of the brain and spine, bone and joint and eye.

If you missed #ScienceInThe6ix, watch the entire event.

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