Three IBBME professors inducted into the Order of Canada

Professors Geoffrey FernieMichael Sefton and Molly Shoichet have been inducted into the Order of Canada, one of the country’s most prestigious recognitions. The three U of T biomedical engineering faculty members were among 125 new appointees announced today by Governor General Julie Payette (ECE MASc 9T0).

Fernie, appointed Member of the Order of Canada (CM), is also a senior scientist and research institute director of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute at the University Health Network. He was recognized for his advancements in the field of rehabilitation engineering, notably in the development of therapies and products designed to assist individuals with limited mobility. In 2014, he was named the inaugural recipient of the Honourable David C. Onley Award in recognition of extraordinary service to Canadians who live with disability.

Sefton, appointed Officer of the Order of Canada (OC), has made significant contributions to research advances in biomaterials, biomedical engineering and regenerative medicine. He was one of the first to combine living cells with polymers, effectively launching the field now called tissue engineering. More recently, his lab has created biomaterials that actively promote the growth of blood vessels. By producing drug-like activity without any drugs or cells included within the material, these materials open a new world of possibilities for applications such as wound healing and the development of lab-grown tissues.

A leader in his professional community, Sefton served as president of the U.S. Society for Biomaterials in 2005 and has spearheaded several programs to advance the field, including the Toronto Tissue Engineering Initiative. He has worked with leading clinicians worldwide to advance research on health issues such as cancer and diabetes. From 1999 to 2005, Sefton was director of U of T’s Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (IBBME), leading its development into one of the top institutes of its kind in North America. He currently serves as executive director of Medicine by Design, a U of T initiative that is accelerating discoveries in regenerative medicine to improve treatments for conditions such as heart failure, diabetes and stroke.

Sefton has received many distinguished awards in engineering and biomedicine, including the U.S. Society for Biomaterials Founders Award, the European Society for Biomaterials International Award, the Killam Prize in Engineering, the Engineers Canada Gold Medal, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society and the Terumo Global Science Prize. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and an international member of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine.

“Professor Michael Sefton is internationally recognized as a pioneer in biomedical engineering. His visionary leadership, both within our Faculty and in the global research community, has been instrumental in the development of this important field, which addresses critical challenges at the interface between engineering and human health,” said Cristina Amon, dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering at the University of Toronto. “On behalf of the Faculty, I extend my warmest congratulations to Michael on this tremendous honour.”

As the Canada Research Chair in Tissue Engineering, Molly Shoichet is pursuing solutions to a critical issue in medicine: treating damage to nerve tissues. Shoichet and her team design and implement novel strategies to promote tissue regeneration after traumatic spinal cord injury and stroke. Her lab is known for its use of materials called hydrogels, which surround and protect stem cells when they are injected in the body. These hydrogels help stem cells survive and integrate into tissues, including tissue damaged by stroke, macular degeneration or other diseases.

Shoichet, who was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada (OC), has published more than 575 papers, patents and abstracts on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. She is the only person to be elected a fellow of all three of Canada’s National Academies and is a foreign member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering.

In November 2017, Shoichet was named Ontario’s first Chief Scientist, with a mandate to advance science and innovation in the province. Earlier this year she was awarded the 2017 Killam Prize in Engineering, Canada’s most prestigious engineering award. She is also the recipient of the 2015 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award for North America and the 2013 Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. She has been a member of the Order of Ontario since 2011.

Outside of her own research, Shoichet is a passionate advocate for science and engineering and their important role in society. She has provided strategic advice to both the federal and provincial governments through her service on Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation Council and the Ontario Research Innovation Council. In 2014, Shoichet was appointed U of T President Meric Gertler’s Senior Advisor on Science and Engineering Engagement.

She is the co-founder of Research 2 Reality, which uses digital media to shine a spotlight on the contributions academic researchers are making to the country. In 2015, she received the Fleming Medal and Citation from the Royal Canadian Institute in recognition of her outstanding contributions to science communication.

“Professor Shoichet’s multidisciplinary research is addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges in human health, and she has been an exceptional ambassador for the Canadian science and engineering community,” said Cristina Amon, dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering at the University of Toronto. “On behalf of the Faculty, I extend my warmest congratulations to her on this richly deserved honour.”

With files from Carolyn Farrell; versions of this story originally appeared on U of T Engineering news