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About Sickkids
About SickKids

September 16, 2013

The water cooler effect at the Gilgan Centre

As scientists and their staff move into the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, they will meet new colleagues and find new ways to collaborate and advance care, research and learning.

Collaboration is all about the water-cooler effect: proximity matters!

As big as it is at 750,000 square feet, the Gilgan Centre is a cozy place for SickKids researchers, who will be together under one roof for the first time, meeting across disciplines in coffee line-ups, elevators, neighbourhood seating areas, and in the open labs.

See the layout of the new building.

The opportunity for a quick chat face-to-face is invaluable, scientists agree. “Sometimes it’s those five minutes in the hallway that make all the difference,” says Dr. Jayne Danska (Genetics & Genome Biology). She would know: she has worked in an extraordinarily fruitful, decades-long partnership with Dr. John Dick of University Health Network in leukemia and stem cell research, and they have consulted in the hallways as well as the lab and their offices over the years. She has also partnered with Dr. Michael Wilson (Genetics & Genome Biology). With his interest in the genetics of liver function, they identified an opportunity to look at how the gut microbiome affects the epigenetics of liver function as it may relate to sex difference and autoimmune disease. “I’m excited to be working with Dr. Danska,” he says. “This is the kind of opportunity that you hope for and work for.”

Neonatologist Dr. Martin Offringa (Child Health Evaluative Sciences) crashed a reception in Vancouver to meet Dr. Norman Rosenblum (Developmental & Stem Cell Biology) of SickKids, the author of a guideline to paediatric clinical trials. Offringa joined SickKids in 2012 and his networking is already creating collaborative platforms with people like Dr. Agostino Pierro (Physiology & Experimental Medicine) and Dr. Ronald Cohn (Genetics & Genome Biology). These are among the opportunities that have made SickKids such an attractive research destination to someone with a deep experience of multinational work in Europe and worldwide.
Dr. John Brumell (Cell Biology) is focused on how pathogens interact with human cells positively and negatively, and triggering not just infection but autoimmune conditions. He is so enthused about the Gilgan Centre as a generator of collaborative enterprise that the names flow one after another. He looks forward to seeing more of researchers including Dr. Roman Melnyk (Molecular Structure & Function) and gastroenterologists Dr. Nicola Jones (Cell Biology) and Dr. Aleixo Muise (Cell Biology). “There is an attitude of collegiality and a feeling of synergy that you get from being here,” Brumell says in his hospital profile.

As she completed her PhD in the Netherlands, Dr. Dwi Kemaladewi knew that she wanted to continue to work in muscular dystrophy. When she cold-called Dr. Ronald Cohn about the possibility of joining his lab as a post-doc in Baltimore he suggested that she join his new lab after he had moved from Johns Hopkins University to SickKids in 2012. Kemaladewi did just that and found herself working on College Street, blocks from her mentor’s office at Elm and University Ave. As the time approached to move into PGCRL she couldn’t be happier about being under the same roof as Cohn. “The walk from College St. to Dundas St. and carrying equipment is sometimes difficult, especially in winter!”

Roman Melnyk and Sheena Josselyn discovered at a SickKids meeting of scientists that their work is complementary. They are now collaborating.
Roman Melnyk and Sheena Josselyn discovered at a SickKids meeting of scientists that their work is complementary. They are now collaborating.

A face-to-face interaction was a necessary catalyst to bring neuroscientist Dr. Sheena Josselyn (Brain Neuroscience & Mental Health) into contact with Dr. Roman Melnyk (Molecular Structure & Function). “His lab is in the hospital building, and mine is in the McMaster Building, and we are in different programs, so we had never met. But when I gave a talk at a Research Institute retreat he came up afterwards and said, ‘We study similar processes in entirely different ways, maybe we should work together.’” The result? Now they are working together on mechanisms to cross the blood-brain barrier with carrier molecules for single-gene knockout disorders.

Dr. Seema Mital (Genetics & Genome Biology) sees the extraordinary breadth and depth of networking potential throughout SickKids as the organization’s core strength. She recalls that Dr. James Ellis (Developmental & Stem Cell Biology) stopped by her office one day to say that she could start a cardiac tissue biobank, which is now a key resource in her work with Dr. Ian Scott (Developmental & Stem Cell Biology) whom she bumped into at a cardiology meeting at the Richard Lewis Centre of Excellence, at University Health Network. They discovered that they were interested in the same mutation and realized that Scott’s work on the embryonic zebrafish heart could be the perfect platform to study the congenital heart defects that interest Mital. Now they are exploring the genetics of congenital heart defects – visible in the transparent zebrafish embryo model – and the potential of regenerative medicine for patch-repairing heart tissue. Mital is also working with oncologist Dr. Paul Nathan (Child Health Evaluative Sciences) to identify the genetic and blood markers that are risk factors for cardiotoxity after chemotherapy.

Meanwhile Scott’s own dendrite-like connections extend into brain cancer research. “In the new building, I will be running into people all the time who do all kinds of research,” he says. In his research profile, he mentions that neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Taylor (Developmental & Stem Cell Biology) and he “are actually doing a fish brain tumour project together right now, largely because we are on the same floor at MaRS and have had a lot of chances to talk about our work and share a beer. I think the [PGCRL] building will allow for more examples like this, where researchers can work together to speed up the pace of discovery. I think that will be the major advantage of the new building. Science is ultimately driven by people and their creativity, and this building will provide more chances for people to talk and interact with each other.”


Meeting of minds

In June 2011, Harvard Magazine carried an article entitled The “Water Cooler” Effect, saying that Harvard Medical School (HMS) researchers had found that chatting around the water cooler may help scientists produce better research.

“Researchers with the HMS Center for Biomedical Informatics wondered whether physical proximity affects the quality of those collaborations: Do scientists who have more ‘face time’ with colleagues produce higher-impact results? To test the hypothesis, they examined data from 35,000 biomedical science papers published between 1999 and 2003, each with at least one Harvard author. The articles appeared in 2,000 journals and involved 200,000 authors.

“After analyzing the number of citations each paper generated (a standard way to gauge article quality) and the distances between coauthors, they concluded that personal contact, especially between an article’s first and last authors, still matters—even in an age of e-mail, social networking, and video conferencing. (Their analysis, ‘Does Collocation Inform the Impact of Collaboration?’ appeared in the online journal PLoS ONE in December (2010).)”

The researchers found that if the first and last authors were physically close, they were cited more, on average, and that as the distance grew, citations generally declined. They also found that, on average, a paper with four or fewer authors based in the same building was cited 45 percent more than one with authors in different buildings.