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About Sickkids
About SickKids

December 19, 2011

Baruchel recently awarded prestigious French order

Philippe Zeller presents Dr. Sylvain Baruchel with the Chevalier de l ‘Ordre National de la legion D‘ honneur
Philippe Zeller presents Dr. Sylvain Baruchel with the Chevalier de l ‘Ordre National de la legion D‘ honneur

Dr. Sylvain Baruchel was recently named a Chevalier  de l ‘Ordre National de la legion  D‘ honneur, the highest designation given by his native country, France and equivalent to the Order of Canada. The French Ambassador in Canada, Philippe Zeller presented Baruchel with this award. It was Zeller’s first official visit to Toronto. Baruchel, a physician, researcher and professor was given this award for his research and education in the fields of AIDS and cancer over the last 30 years and his work to improve the self esteem of teens living with cancer. 

Founder of the innovative Tip of the Toes Foundation, Baruchel started an initiative to take teens with cancer on expeditions in the wilderness. Baruchel has also done work in France and in Canada to raise awareness and combat the stigmatization of patients with AIDS or cancer.

  1. What first sparked your interest in a career in medicine? When did you first decide you wanted to become a clinician-scientist?

    I had surgery when I was very young and I was very impressed by every aspect of health care and surgery. I decided right then that I wanted to become a doctor. About four to five years into my career, I realized that I was interested in academic medicine. I was excited by the opportunities for creativity in research. Advancements are made through research and training the next generation of health care professionals.

  2. Did you have any important mentors?

    I had a mentor in Paris at Institut Curie, Dr. Jean Michel Zucker. I also had the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Luc Montagnier, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of AIDS. They both influenced me a lot.

  3. You have done a lot of philanthropic work throughout your career – what motivated you to do this?

    I found that we were missing the psychological support that teenagers living with cancer need and the social aspect of the disease. I was seeing that the kids I was treating were getting depressed. Each time I had to tell a patient that they had to go through another round of chemotherapy, they were not only affected physically, but also emotionally. I wanted to find a way to bring them back to life, to show them that they could do more than they thought. I came up with the idea to combine nature, exercise, adventure and a challenge and show the kids that they are heroes and they can perform even better than their peers who are not sick. We started with a really small group in 1996 and we went cross-country skiing and camping in the winter in northern Quebec in minus 20 to minus 25 C degree weather. It was so incredible how much they changed in a week – they had hope, they were strong again. These expeditions still take place in Quebec twice a year and there is a similar program now out of Camp Oochigeas called Upstream and every year they take 10 to 12 teenagers on canoe expeditions.

  4. What are some of the highlights of your career?

    I built a unique clinical and research program at SickKids for drug discovery in childhood cancer. I really love to start projects and bring them to maturity and then train others in this field to be able to take over. The creativity and innovation that are possible in academic medicine really motivate me.

  5. What are you working on now?

    Right now we are focusing on new treatment for paediatric cancer. Specifically my interest is in neuroblastoma, one of the most difficult cancers to treat. I am developing a new strategy to develop new drugs or new modalities to administer radio therapy through radioisotope treatment in refractory, or relapsed, neuroblastoma. In fact, we are in the process of building a new nuclear medicine facility at SickKids which will allow these new treatments to be given to patients. This is the most exciting projoct that I will be working on in the next five years.

    In addition to the pre-clinical development, I am really interested in how we bridge basic research and patient care.

  6. What advice would you give a young doctor just starting out?

    Never give up. Never think it’s not possible. When I decided to move to Canada, 24 years ago, I was starting a completely new life. Everyone told me that it was going to be very difficult. I say never give up, never say it’s impossible. If you want to do it, you can do it! That’s my best advice for the next generation. If you like it, if this is something that motivates you, then you should do it.