​​​​​Jonathan Furneaux
(L to R) Double lung transplant recipient Jonathan Furneaux, stem cell pioneer Dr. James Till, Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, ​Director of the Toronto Lung Transplant Program and UHN Surgeon-in-Chief, and UHN President and CEO Dr. Peter Pisters celebrate the announcement of nearly $114-million in funding from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund to strengthen the leadership of the University of Toronto and its partner hospitals in regenerative medicine. (Photo: UHN)​

Eighteen University Health Network researchers are partners with the University of Toronto in a major award for stem cell research into treatments for degenerative diseases.

Tuesday's Medicine by Design award of almost $114 million from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund will strengthen the leadership in regenerative medicine for both the university and its partner hospitals. This is the largest single research grant given to the university.

A focus is on discovering new therapies based on the design and manufacture of molecules, cells, tissue and organs that can be used to treat illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, blindness, lung disease, neurodegenerative disorders and diseases of the blood and musculoskeletal system.

The cell-, tissue- and organ-design projects will be supported by technology platforms, such as genomic engineering to discover biomarkers; immune engineering to control the body's responses to disease and to transplanted cells, organs and tissues, and a program to manufacture stem cells on demand.

The research will build on Canada's strong legacy of stem cell research, begun by Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch's first discovery of stem cells at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in 1961.

Jonathan Furneaux, 46, flew in from St. John's, Newfoundland, to be part of the announcement. He in an example of someone who has already benefited from this technology, having received a double lung transplant at TGH in February 2014.

His donor lungs were treated, repaired and assessed by the world-first Toronto Ex Vivo Lung Perfusion System, a technique and technology made possible at TGH by regenerative medicine and stem cell research.

The technique of warm organ perfusion outside the body was pioneered by the Toronto Lung Transplant Program at TGH in 2008 by Drs. Shaf Keshavjee and Marcelo Cypel to better treat, repair and assess high-risk donor lungs outside the body.

The Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State  and UHN President and CEO Dr. Peter Pisters
The Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology), (L) and UHN President and CEO Dr. Peter Pisters at the federal government funding announcement, which is the single largest research grant ever given to the U of T. (Photo: UHN)​​​

The lungs are placed in a protective dome in which a system continuously pumps a bloodless solution of oxygen, proteins and nutrients into the injured donor lungs, mimicking normal physiological conditions. This makes it possible for the injured cells to begin repairing themselves, and sets the stage for more sophisticated repair techniques to be applied to donor lungs. Since 2012, there has been an unprecedented 28 per cent increase in lung transplants at TGH as a result of this system.

Furneaux recalled that he had less than 20 per cent lung capacity, and had to be taken by air ambulance to Toronto. Twenty-eight days afterwards, he received his donor lungs, and 12 days after the transplant, he walked out of TGH without the aid of a wheelchair or oxygen.

"I can now do simple things that everyone takes for granted," he says, "I can blow up balloons for my son's birthday. I can walk and bike and go camping. It's living again."

Among the partnership hospitals and centres are: University Health Network, Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), Mt. Sinai, the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research, The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Sweden's Karolinska Institute, Peking University, the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform, the University of Montreal, and the University of British Columbia.

UHN researchers involved in the grant application are: Drs. Gordon Keller, Shaf Keshavjee, Mingyao Liu and Tom Waddell as "Pillar Leaders" of either Organs or Tissues by Design, with investigators Drs. Mitesh Badiwala, Mark Cattral, Myron Cybulsky, Marcelo Cypel, John Dick, Ren-Ke Li, Tak Mak, Senthil Muthuswamy, Pamela Ohashi, Vivek Rao, Markus Selzner, Valerie Wallace, Richard Weisel and David McMillen.

The award is part of Canada's First Research Excellence Fund's first "quick start" competition of $350 million, with a second competition launched this week. The Fund will invest $1.5 billion over seven years to help Canada's post-secondary institutions excel globally in research areas that create long-term economic benefits for Canada.​​

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