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Two nominations - 2021​ Canadian Podcast Awards: 'Outstanding Science Series' and 'Outstanding Branded Series'
A podcast about the people behind the world-leading research at UHN
UHN Podcast Behind the Breakthrough Cover

Season 3 launches ​October 12!​​​

Behind the Breakthrough podcast features UHN's award-winning scientists taking us behind the scenes to understand their groundbreaking medical research. This season you'll hear about their world first discoveries that confirmed a third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine significantly boosts protection for transplant patients, and that cancer cells evade chemotherapy by going into "hibernation." Season 3 of the podcast also showcases pioneering investigations into new diagnostic tools such as computer vision to better detect pain and prevent falls in the elderly, as well as the potential of deep-brain stimulation to treat Alzheimer's patients, and the use of nanotechnology to eradicate cancer.

Scientists at UHN are driven to pursue answers and solutions to the most profound health issues and diseases. Their pursuit of better treatments and new cures is personal. Feel their passion and determination in these intimate one-on-one conversations about their work and how they got to where they are today.

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Dr. Joan Wither  

Episode 8 – Dr. Babak Taati on pioneering the use of computer vision to help seniors live safer, healthier lives

Air Date: November 30, 2021 | Length: 34:36

In this episode of Behind the Breakthrough, we learn how Dr. Babak Taati's work involves using ambient monitoring systems to assess and analyze the movement and facial expressions of older adults to detect signs of pain and predict the likelihood of future falls, all while they go about their daily lives. He also discusses the ethical considerations of ambient monitoring techniques, from privacy concerns to working to eliminate ageism and ableism in the technology used.

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Dr. Joan Wither  

Episode 7 – The 'Biomarker Hunter' – searching for the genetic and immune system abnormalities that lead to systemic autoimmune rheumatic diseases

Air Date: November 23, 2021 | Length: 37:58

A healthy immune system is ready to fight the body against any potential disease or infection. But when the immune system malfunctions, it may attack healthy cells, tissues, and organs. These autoimmune diseases are unpredictable, which is why genetic and biomarker-based research is key to understanding the risks and progression of the disease. Dr. Joan Wither and her team are working on a series of biological tests that will better predict the progression of systemic autoimmune rheumatic diseases, such as Lupus and Sjogren’s Disease. She discusses the importance of studying patients at various points throughout the disease, whether in a disease-dormant or flare-up state, which creates somewhat of an immune response timeline and profile.

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Dr. Gang Zheng  

Episode 6 – Dr. Gang Zheng on harnessing the promise of nanotechnology for the detection and treatment of cancer

Air Date: November 16, 2021 | Length: 52:10

Nanotechnology in medicine is having a moment, with the profile and perception of the approach raised since it played a role in the development of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. But for Dr. Gang Zheng, the science of the very small and how it can be harnessed in cancer care has been a pursuit of passion for years. In this episode, Dr. Zheng talks us through his development of a unique nontoxic nanoparticle, a porphysome, made by combining lipid or fat particles with a compound derived from pacific algae. This so-called Swiss army knife of nanoparticles has the potential to significantly improve the way cancers are detected and treated, from targeted drug delivery to ablation of the tumour from within using light.

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Dr. Jordan Feld  

Episode 5 – Dr. Jordan Feld on shifting from discovering a pill that cures Hepatitis C to investigating a treatment for mild COVID

Air Date: November 9, 2021 | Length: 53:10

The COVID-19 pandemic shocked everyone around the world - even those who study viruses such as Dr. Jordan Feld. In 2015, Dr. Feld led a groundbreaking international trial that made the breakthrough discovery of a pill that cures Hepatitis C. When the pandemic hit, he shifted gears and led another pioneering investigation into a treatment for the Coronavirus using Interferon Lambda. After a successful phase one and two trial, it is currently in phase three with more patients enrolled. Compounding the urgency, Dr. Feld was juggling the approval process for his trial with the birth of his third son. He touches on the impact the pandemic had on research, how his team maintained a safe environment during the trial and what it means to be a mentor.

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Dr. Catherine O'Brien  

Episode 4 – Dr. Catherine O'Brien on the world-first discovery that colorectal cancer cells hibernate like bears to evade chemotherapy

Air Date: November 2, 2021 | Length: 44:44

Dr. Catherine O'Brien and her team at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre were trying to figure out how cancer cells apparently become resistant to chemotherapy when they made the discovery that the cells can enter a state akin to hibernation to avoid the toxic onslaught of the drugs. In this episode, Dr O'Brien discusses how her team made this groundbreaking discovery and how it may lead to unique therapeutic opportunities for patients in the future. She also discusses the importance of making connections between different scientific disciplines, and how a Grade 10 career day spent with a female surgeon inspired her to pursue a career in surgery herself.

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Deepali Kumar  

Episode 3 – Dr. Deepali Kumar on world-first discovery that third COVID-19 vaccine dose significantly boosts protection for transplant patients

Air Date: October 26, 2021 | Length: 28:05

Transplant patients are among the most vulnerable populations when it comes to COVID-19. A world-first discovery at UHN’s Ajmera Transplant Centre found that a third vaccine dose for transplant patients shows substantially improved protection. Dr. Deepali Kumar, joint-Senior Author on the study, recalls the importance of this groundbreaking discovery. Plus, she discusses the importance of work-life balance, overcoming obstacles and mentorship in research. She draws on her experience of moving from Saharanpur, a city 200 kilometers north of New Delhi in India to Winnipeg, Manitoba at the age of nine, and the bravery her parents had to make that big, life-changing decision.

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Beate Sander  

Episode 2 – Dr. Beate Sander on the economics of infectious diseases and guiding public health policy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Air Date: October 19, 2021 | Length: 47:21

It was Canada’s worst fear in March 2020 — COVID-19 reached the great white north. With increasing case counts and hospital burden throughout the country and in Ontario, government officials were looking to lean on healthcare economists to predict the impact of the pandemic. Dr. Beate Sander’s research highlights the importance of epidemiological modelling and how it guided public policy in Ontario. With the ever-changing data from around the world, her team highlighted the importance of certain measures to stop the spread. She discusses how the pandemic affects certain populations disproportionally. Plus, she expresses the need for better public data infrastructures, reporting, tracking and analytics to be well prepared in the future.

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Dr. Brad Wouters  

Episode 1 – UHN’s world leading Covid-19 research; the triumph of basic science in creating the vaccine; and when will the pandemic end?

Air Date: October 12, 2021 | Length: 54:52

A special Covid-19 episode featuring a provocative and wide-ranging conversation with UHN Executive Vice President of Science and Research, Dr. Brad Wouters. Dr. Wouters highlights some of the UHN Research teams' leading-edge Covid-19 treatments and discoveries, including world-first investigations that demonstrated Heparin prevents deadly blood clots in Covid patients with mild symptoms, and, a third dose of the Covid vaccine dramatically improves protection against the virus for immune-compromised transplant patients. Dr. Wouters also discusses the triumph of basic science to create the Covid19 mRNA-based vaccines, and, how and when does this pandemic end. Plus, he speaks to a challenge he sees on the horizon for medical research in Canada — how to maintain the tremendous public profile and support it now enjoys once the pandemic fades away.

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Dr. John Dick  

Episode 10 – Dr. John Dick on his famous discovery of cancer stem cells, and the puzzle of research

Air Date: November 26, 2020 | Length: 1:15:06

Dr. John Dick is known internationally for his discovery of blood stem cells. His work has broadened understanding of where and why leukemia starts, and what we could do to prevent it. In this episode of Behind the Breakthrough, Dr. John Dick takes us behind the scenes on his career, building on the pioneering work of Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch—the first to define the properties of stem cells. He delves into the pivotal moments that led to discoveries that have changed the face of cancer research, and why science doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

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Mansoor Husain  

Episode 9 - Dr. Mansoor Husain on a breakthrough drug for diabetes and heart disease

Air Date: November 24, 2020 | Length: 36:58

Almost 20 years ago, a hallway conversation kickstarted Dr. Mansoor Husain’s journey in helping create and test a new diabetes drug that reduces the risk of heart disease. In 2019, the award-winning physician-scientist at the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research and Peter Munk Cardiac Centre published the findings of a landmark trial proving the drug’s safety and reduction in cardiovascular-related mortality, bringing a new therapy into the fold for patients with diabetes – who are two to four times more likely to die from cardiovascular problems than those without it.

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Dr. Alex Mihailidis  

Episode 8 – Dr. Alex Mihailidis on helping us live at home longer

Air Date: November 19, 2020 | Length: 45:02

The stories patients and caregivers tell of the difficulties managing day-to-day tasks stay top of mind for Dr. Alex Mihailidis, an award-winning scientist developing smart home systems to care for and promote the well being of older adults. From robots who support common household activities, floor tiles that monitor blood pressure and sensors that can send a reminder to turn off the stove, Dr. Mihailidisis alleviating the responsibility of care from the patient and caregiver and putting it into the home.

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Dr. Ralph DaCosta  

Episode 7 – Dr. Ralph DaCosta on a better way to visualize cancer and his serendipitous invention

Air Date: November 17, 2020 | Length: 41:48

In 2007, Dr. Ralph DaCosta was in the Princess Margaret Optics Lab researching molecular imaging to better visualize cancer when he made a serendipitous discovery that could revolutionize wound care. Hear about his groundbreaking work in visualizing cancer, his serendipitous discovery that has turned him into an inventor and entrepreneur, and how Terry Fox was the inspiration for his drive to enter cancer research.

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Dr.  Sonya MacParland  

Episode 6 – Dr. Sonya MacParland on developing the world’s first map of the liver

Air Date: November 12, 2020 | Length: 42:52

What attracted Dr. Sonya MacParland to the world of science was the possibility of making a discovery no one else has ever made. It’s exactly what she went on to do – the award-winning scientist at UHN’s Toronto General Hospital Research Institute developed the world’s first transcriptomic map ofthe liver, triggering a paradigm shift in liver research and therapy.

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Dr. Heather Baltzer  

Episode 5 – Dr. Heather Baltzer on pioneering hand trauma treatment

Air Date: November 10, 2020 | Length: 31:26

Hand trauma sends more Canadians to the emergency room each year than any other injury, something this episode’s guest refers to as an “unrecognized public health issue.’ Dr. Heather Baltzer joins us to discuss her pioneering research to improve both the treatment and outcomes for people suffering hand trauma, as well as the effect such traumas can have on both the patient and the healthcare system at large.

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Dr. Pamela Ohashi  

Episode 4 – Dr. Pamela Ohashi on treating cancer with immunotherapy

Air Date: November 5, 2020 | Length: 28:05

In this episode, Dr. Pamela Ohashi takes listeners on a journey through groundbreaking advances in immunotherapy, a treatment that activates or triggers your body’s own immune cells to seek out and kill cancer. Dr. Ohashi has witnessed the field blossom into the next frontier in cancer treatments, in part thanks to some of her own discoveries. Listen in to find out what barriers her lab is tackling next, her approach to mentorship, and what she thinks about patients that decide to take part in immunotherapyclinical trials.

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Dr. Taufik Valiante  

Episode 3 – Dr. Taufik Valiante invents computer chip designed to monitor and stop epileptic seizures

Air Date: November 3, 2020 | Length: 52:27

What if a tiny computer chip could be implanted into the brain to look out for epileptic seizures and then stop them before they ever occur? Sounds like science fiction – and yet – Dr. Taufik Valiante’s lab at the Krembil Research Institute has done just that. His chip is called ‘NURIP’ – the acronym for neural interface processor and it’s inspiration came from the engineering concept of control theory and applied to the brain.NURIP “is this idea that we can modulate, alter brain activity in a way to push the brain away from states that are bad for it, and epilepsy is just an example,” explains Dr. Valiante. NURIP is entering the animal model testing phase and if successful would be a game changer in the treatment of epilepsy.

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Stephanie Protze  

Episode 2 – Turning stem cells into pacemaker cells, with Dr. Stephanie Protze.

Air Date: October 29, 2019 | Length: 30:27

In this episode of Behind the Breakthrough, we sit down with Dr. Stephanie Protze, Scientist at UHN’s McEwen Stem Cell Institute, to hear the story of a high school class field trip to Dresden, Germany, led her to become an award-winning scientist pioneering the creation of new heart cells to restore the heart's pacemaker function. The ultimate goal -- to develop biological pacemakers that one day work better than the electronic devices that are the current standard of care.

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Dr. Brad Wouters  

Episode 1 – Dr. Brad Wouters on leadership during the pandemic, COVID-19 research, and anti-vaxxers

Air Date: October 27, 2020 | Length: 46:35

Season Two of Behind the Breakthrough kicks off with a special Covid-19 edition featuring a provocative and wide-ranging interview with UHN Executive Vice President of Science and Research Dr. Brad Wouters. Dr. Wouters takes listeners on a revealing behind-the-scenes journey to learn how UHN Research dealt with the fallout of the world-wide pandemic declared in March 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19.

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Donald Weaver 

Episode 11 – Beating back Alzheimer’s, one poem at a time, with Dr. Donald Weaver

Air Date: December 17, 2019 | Length: 37:14

In the final episode, we hear from Dr. Donald Weaver, director of the Krembil Research Institute. Dr. Weaver talks about his groundbreaking research into Alzheimer’s disease, and explains how drug research works and the challenges of getting to a clinical trial. He also tells us why his response to questions of “What next?” is a cheery “More failure!,” the purpose of his weekly story-telling in team meetings, and talks about his poetry career.

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Michael Hoffman 

Episode 10 - Using computers to understand cancer with Dr. Michael Hoffman

Air Date: December 10, 2019 | Length: 31:00

In this episode of Behind the Breakthrough, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre scientist Dr. Michael Hoffman explains how he leverages the power and speed of computers to understand the origins of cancer. He says cancer is a disease of the DNA – the genetic code that determines our individual characteristics. Essentially, our DNA acts as a program telling our cells what to do. In the case of cancer the wrong program gets run and cells divide in an unrestricted manner. The goal of Dr. Hoffman’s lab is to determine if there is a way of predicting when the wrong program gets run – before it ever happens.

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 Kristin Musselman 

Episode 9 - Pioneering research by UHN’s Dr. Kristin Musselman is designed to get spinal cord injured patients mobile

Air Date: December 3, 2019 | Length: 30:22

Dr. Kristin Musselman is a pioneer in research designed to get patients with partial spinal cord injury up and walking again. She joins UHN’s Behind the Breakthrough podcast to talk about her latest research, how it relies heavily on patient input, and the satisfaction of seeing those same patients try new strategies to regain mobility and maintain their balance.

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Valerie Wallace 

Episode 8 - Reversing blindness and the serendipity of science, with Dr. Valerie Wallace

Air Date: November 26, 2019 | Length: 35:04

Dr. Valerie Wallace is on a mission to reverse blindness. The award-winning senior scientist and co-director of the Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute at UHN’s Krembil Research Institute sits down with Behind the Breakthrough to discuss the serendipity of science, the curiosity that drives her and the changing landscape of women in STEM.

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Michael Laflamme 

Episode 7 – Repairing broken hearts with stem cells, with Dr. Michael Laflamme

Air Date: November 19, 2019 | Length: 28:22

In this episode of Behind the Breakthrough, we hear from cardiac pathologist and award-winning principal investigator at the McEwen Stem Cell Institute Dr. Michael Laflamme. His mission: to restore the function of injured hearts by replacing scar tissue with healthy heart muscle cells made from stem cells.

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Jenny Campos 

Episode 6 – Overcoming ‘imposter syndrome’ and helping the elderly live well, with Dr. Jennifer Campos

Air Date: November 12, 2019 | Length: 40:02

Growing up, the death of Dr. Jenny Campos’ grandfather from a preventable fall while carrying groceries up a flight of stairs shook her family to the core. Today, it is the driving force behind her research in falls and driving collision prevention in the elderly. By simulating real life challenges in Toronto Rehabilitation Institute’s renowned Challenging Environment Assessment Lab (CEAL), Dr. Campos is finding ways to help older adults live well.

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Mathieu Lupien 

Episode 5 – Meet the cancer codebreaker, Dr. Mathieu Lupien

Air Date: November 5, 2019 | Length: 47:38

In the battle to defeat cancer, award-winning UHN researcher Dr. Mathieu Lupien is a modern-day version of the Bletchley Park World War Two codebreakers. Dr. Lupien searches the human genome, trying to crack the origin of how and why cancer starts. He knows deciphering that enigmatic code is one of the keys that will lead to a cure for cancer. Dr. Lupien also talks about the Terry Fox loonie he carries in his pocket at all times as a reminder of the commitment and importance of the work done in his lab, how a line in a TV show he watched as a child in Quebec has fuelled his research career,” and his advice for kids who want to go into science.

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Milos Popovic 

Episode 4 – Robotics, rehabilitation therapy and learning from failure, with Dr. Milos Popovic

Air Date: October 29, 2019 | Length: 32:03

We sit down with Dr. Milos Popovic to hear about his transformational shift from aerospace engineering to rehabilitation research, and how it led to his invention of a medical device that delivers electrical stimulation to restore upper limb mobility to people with paralysis caused by spinal cord injury and stroke. Originally from Belgrade, Dr. Popovic shares how he narrowly escaped Yugoslavia’s brutal civil war as military soldiers banged on doors looking for conscripts.

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Camilla Zimmermann 

Episode 3 – Challenging the meaning of palliative care, with Dr. Camilla Zimmermann

Air Date: October 22, 2019 | Length: 43:20

Dr. Camilla Zimmermann talks about how her research has helped change the practice of palliative care from end-of-life care to a more wholistic approach that answers the question, “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” Dr. Zimmermann also reveals how the death of her parents when she was a teenager shaped her career, her initial reluctance to admit to colleagues her desire to be a palliative care specialist, and how stigma still hangs on the concept of what is palliative care.

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Karen Davis Hero Image 

Episode 2 – Chronic pain and scientific baseball, with Dr. Karen Davis

Air Date: October 15, 2019 | Length: 34:56

In this episode, neuroscientist Dr. Karen Davis talks to us about pain. What is it? Can we predict it? What does personality-type have to do with it? While the complexity of pain is still not well understood, the uncertainty doesn’t stop Dr. Davis and her team. “We all have doubts,” she says. “But what drives most of us is a very fundamental curiosity … and the more we interact with patients the more it motivates us to think outside the box.”

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Heather Ross Hero Image 

Episode 1 – Dr. Heather Ross on heart failure, artificial intelligence and a near-death experience

Air Date: October 8, 2019 | Length: 42:07

In this episode of Behind the Breakthrough, we hear from cardiologist Dr. Heather Ross about her pioneering work with artificial intelligence, how she handles failure—especially after two rejections from medical school—and how a brush with death brought her closer to her patients than ever before.

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