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Year in Review: 6 vital health stories from 2014

Published on January, 8th 2015
By Dr. Greg Wells

Working to improve the understanding, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of illness

By: Michael Kennedy

In 2014 the University of Toronto continued its legacy of life-changing discovery and solidified its reputation as a global medical-research powerhouse. 

It was a year that saw U of T medical researchers tackle everything from treatments for childhood brain cancer to the debunking of fad diets and explaining unconventional methods of teeth whitening

And researchers at the Faculty of Medicine, the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, the Faculty of Dentistry, the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education and the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy weren’t the only ones working to improve health and wellness. Engineering researchers also shared knowledge that contributed to innovative health practices used to tackle disease locally and around the world

Writer Michael Kennedy reports on health and wellness stories for U of T News. Below, Michael shares some of his favourite stories from 2014.

Reducing risk and complications in the operating room

Researchers create “black box” for use in operating rooms to improve patient care

Associate Professor Teodor Grantcharov and his team of researchers have developed a “black box” for using in operating rooms, similar to that used in the airline industry. It’s been tested here in Toronto, at St. Michael’s Hospital, and in hospitals in Copenhagen, Denmark. The goal: to improve patient safety by identifying where and when errors occur in an OR and teaching surgeons to prevent them.

Publishing the largest genomic study to date on any psychiatric disorder

U of T researchers shed new light on biology underlying schizophrenia

As part of a multinational, collaborative effort, researchers from the University of Toronto and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) helped identify more than 100 locations in the human genome associated with the risk of developing schizophrenia. It’s hoped this work will lead to new treatments for the disorder, which has seen little innovation in drug development in the past 60 years.

“Large collaborative efforts such as this one are needed to identify genes that influence complex disorders,” said Jo Knight, professor of psychiatry at U of T’s Faculty of Medicine, CAMH senior scientist and the Joanne Murphy Professor in Behavioural Science. “The result is a major advance in understanding the genetic basis of brain functioning in schizophrenia.”

Diagnosing Autism at a younger age so treatment can start sooner

Unlocking Autism’s code

Dr. Stephen Scherer leads the Toronto research team that has identified the formula for diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at an earlier age. This will let patients receive therapies at an earlier age, while helping to create  more advanced genetic diagnostic tests.

Explaining how sitting is killing you and what you should do about it
Everyone says sitting is the new smoking

Study after study has highlighted the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle that includes extended periods of sitting, and the catchphrase “sitting is the new smoking” has gained traction in the media and in popular consciousness.

Writer Jenny Hall turned to Assistant Professor Greg Wells of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at U of T and an associate scientist in physiology and experimental medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children. His advice?

“For every 20 minutes of sitting, stand up and stretch for 20 seconds. Beyond that, within every two-hour block, try to find 15 minutes to do some activity, be it walking or stairs. Even just standing for a while is better than sitting down. I tell people to stand up in meetings. If everyone else is sitting, find a spot to stand up in the back. If you’re doing a phone call, get up and do it with headphones while you’re standing.”

Discovering a new class of stem cell

Stem cell pioneers’ major, multinational discovery may speed research

It was an effort so huge, they dubbed it Project Grandiose. U of T’s Professor Andras Nagy led a team of almost 50 scientists on four continents and the results, published simultaneously in five separate scientific articles in Nature and Nature Communications, grabbed headlines around the world. (Read the TIME magazine article. Read the South China Morning Post coverage.)

Committing to reduce hospitalization for heart failure by 50 per cent over the next decade

Historic $130 million gift to establish Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research

With a $130 million from the Rogers family – the largest monetary gift ever made to a Canadian health-care initiative – The Hospital for Sick Children, the University Health Network and U of T announced the creation of the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research.

“The Toronto region is home to one of the world’s largest biomedical science and health education clusters,” said President Meric Gertler. “This exceptionally powerful network of researchers and educators is translating exciting ideas, innovations and therapies in stem cell research and regenerative medicine into clinical settings where they will address the most challenging problems across the spectrum of heart disease. With its pioneering spirit and innovative approach, the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research will be a world-class collaboration and a most fitting tribute to its namesake.”