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About Sickkids
About SickKids

September 17, 2014

The Gilgan Centre: One year later

It’s been one year since the opening of the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning (Gilgan Centre) at SickKids and has it ever been a busy one! With over 2,000 SickKids scientists and their staff moved into the building, 210 labs up and running, and 46 conferences held there is plenty to celebrate!

Since first opening its doors on Sept. 17, 2013, the Gilgan Centre and its world class facilities have been a beacon, enhancing SickKids’ appeal to international researchers and trainees alike. The tower has been influential in drawing scientific talent to SickKids. Since opening, SickKids has recruited 11 outstanding new scientists and attracted 794 research fellows and graduate students from more than 44 different countries.

“To me, the Gilgan Centre is a model for how research should be carried out,” says Dr. Monica Justice, Senior Scientist and Head of the Genetics & Genome Biology program at SickKids. Justice, a pioneer in studying genetic childhood diseases in model organisms, came to SickKids from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas in early 2014. “The building (Gilgan Centre) itself, along with having all of these research programs together under one roof was a major factor for me coming to SickKids.”

Justice’s research focuses on understanding the epigenetics behind acute lymphoblastic leukemia and Rett Syndrome (a fatal neurodegenerative disease) to understand and develop better treatments for children.

“The type of research, the design of the building and its place within the SickKids community is important not only for the type of research I do, but because this type of infrastructure fosters endless collaboration,” says Justice.

Before the Gilgan Centre opened, SickKids research staff were scattered across six buildings. Now, united in what is believed to be the largest child health research tower in the world, the Gilgan Centre and its large, multi-level open spaces has become a catalyst for sparking new interactions between researchers across different fields of study. The common “water cooler” areas provide scientists, clinicians and students with a space to gather and incubate new solutions for treating childhood diseases. This is critical for translating research discovery into clinical impact. Drs. Sheena Josselyn and Paul Frankland, both Senior Scientists in the Neurosciences & Mental Health program, have seen first hand the effect the Gilgan Centre and its spaces have had on nurturing collaboration.

“It is much easier to talk science with a colleague outside our particular areas of expertise once we have chatted while waiting for our coffee to brew,” says Josselyn.

While waiting for their coffee one day, Josselyn and Frankland ran into Dr. Don Mabbot, Psychologist at SickKids and Senior Scientist in Neurosciences & Mental Health at the Research Institute. After a quick chat, they soon discovered how well their respective research fit together. The three scientists are now working on a study that builds on Josselyn and Frankland’s previous findings in model organisms about the role of newborn brain cells and memory. They discovered that these new cells contribute to infantile amnesia (why we can’t remember things from our early years), and now hope to test their findings by assessing memory in children. This is the first time either Josselyn or Frankland have conducted clinical research. Enabling these types of collaborations will help SickKids fuel innovation and translate basic research into improvements in child health outcomes.

While the Gilgan Centre has been designed to enrich research and learning at SickKids, its staff have also been deeply committed to reducing its day-to-day environmental impact, greatly facilitated by the building’s design.  Over the past year, several green initiatives, including lab recycling programs, have helped divert more than 30,000 gallons of plastic, glass and Styrofoam from landfills. The Gilgan Centre was designed to use 90 per cent natural light and there are already plans to implement automated lighting controls in administrative and lab areas to further reduce electricity costs. With plans to launch the “Shut the Sash” program (an initiative designed to conserve energy by shutting lab fume hoods when not in use), the tower will dramatically reduce its energy use, as the 176 fume hoods in the building use the equivalent energy of over 600 homes annually. These green initiatives will help SickKids achieve LEED Gold Certification for the Gilgan Centre – an international mark of excellence used in 132 countries to recognize sustainability.  

The Gilgan Centre has helped firmly root SickKids as a world leader in children’s health. This new building has thrust SickKids into a new era that is already beginning to transform the way our clinicians and scientists approach the advancement of child health research, education and care.

One example of great work taking place throughout the Gilgan Centre is Cystic Fibrosis (CF) research. Click the image below to learn how each research program and neighbourhood works together and read more about CF research at SickKids.


Photo galleries

Auditorium      Atrium Lower Level      

Robert B. Salter Auditorium         Interactive space           



Gilgan Centre

Gilgan Centre facts

  • Number of petri dishes ordered: 31,954
  • New grants awarded: 172
  • Number of conferences held: 46 full day or multi-day events (greater than four hours)
  • Number of labs: 210
  • Newly recruited scientists: 11
  • 8 scientists have received promotion/reclassification
  • Total trainees (research fellows and graduate students): 794 from more than 44 countries
  • 12,200 gallons of lab plastics recycled
  • 1,800 gallons of lab glass recycled
  • 16,700 gallons of Styrofoam recycled (since March 2014)