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About the Institute

Profile of Victor Blanchette

Photo of Victor Blanchette
Dr. Victor Blanchette

Dr. Victor Blanchette, MD, MA, MB, MRCS, LRCP, DCH, MRCP, FRCP(C), FRCP

  • Senior Associate Scientist, Child Health Evaluative Sciences
  • Division Head, Haematology/Oncology
  • Women’s Auxiliary Chair, Paediatric Haematology/Oncology
  • Professor, Paediatrics, University of Toronto

1. Where are you from? / Where did you study?
I grew up in Barbados in the West Indies. When I was nineteen I went to medical school at Cambridge University and then I did my clinical training in London at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. As a medical student, I traveled to John’s Hopkins Hospital to do an elective in paediatrics and I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided to go back to John’s Hopkins as a resident. There, I decided that I wanted to further my training in children’s blood diseases and cancer and the head of haematology at John’s Hopkins knew Dr. Alvin Zipursky who was a leader in the field. At that time Dr. Zipursky was the head of the paediatric haematology program at Hamilton Health Sciences and I went and worked as his fellow. After that I worked at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa. Meanwhile Dr. Zipursky was appointed as the head of haematology/oncology at SickKids and he recruited me to join his team. That was in 1983 and I have been here ever since.

2. What are you researching right now?
My interest area has always been on the blood side of paediatric haematology/oncology. I have a particular interest in the inherited and acquired bleeding disorders in children like hemophilia and a disorder called Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP). This is a clinical disorder where patients have a decreased number of circulating platelets that cause a bleeding tendency, easy bruising or extravasation of blood into skin and mucous membranes.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
I have to say Dr. Alvin Zipursky. He was the stimulus that inspired me to get into this field and he is an excellent role model of a clinician-scientist. Dr. Zipursky brought the enthusiasm and depth of his work from the bench to the bedside and he always centered his work on learning more about patient problems and learning from individual clinical cases. When I was his fellow, I witnessed this firsthand. He paid a lot of attention to the clinical aspects of science and he knew that we could learn a great deal from diseases occurring in children. I think I am the clinician-scientist I am today because of what he taught me.

4. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I love reading, travelling and watching sports and I also love spending time with my family. I am lucky to have a very supportive wife, four grown sons and two granddaughters who all live close by.

5. Why science?
I expressed the interest to become a doctor from a very young age. As a physician, my interest in science comes from the need to better understand diseases and to try to discover more about what causes them and how we can treat them. Our ability to learn and improve how we work worldwide is an amazing challenge and privilege. Consider leukemia, the most common childhood cancer. Forty years ago almost all children diagnosed with leukemia would die – now we can cure eighty per cent of affected children who can then go on and live normal lives. This amazing statistic has been achieved by scientists and clinicians working together.

6. Why SickKids?
I have a bit of a bias since I have been here for over 25 years, but I truly believe that SickKids is a unique and superb paediatric institution. It has a legacy of excellence in clinical care, in teaching and in research. SickKids is not just a provincial resource but truly a national and international resource. Many of those who trained here are leaders in their field around the world. All professionals at SickKids feel proud to be associated with SickKids and to work at SickKids. The atmosphere is truly amazing and I consider it to be a privilege to have worked here for over 25 years.

7. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
In the field of the inherited bleeding disorders like hemophilia, patients miss a clotting factor. In the mid 80s the clotting factor concentrates that boys with hemophilia were given to stop life-threatening bleeding were made from human blood. These blood derived clotting factor concentrates often transmitted infections like the AIDS (HIV) virus. Science and discovery have since allowed us to make, and have available, very safe genetically engineered recombinant clotting factors. Patients who have access to these products can now live a normal life. The cost, however, is very high. There is much discussion about how we are going to be able to deliver these very expensive treatments to all those in need in our society. That is not just the case in hemophilia but for many diseases. As science and technology continue to improve we are able to keep people with serious diseases alive longer with acceptable quality of life. As new treatments are discovered more cost in ensued. We need to work to find a way to afford the cost of health care in the new millennium.
 

8. What are you reading right now?
I recently finished reading the autobiography of Andre Aggasi, a former tennis player; I really enjoyed the book. There were things in the book that speak to all of us. His father was determined that one of his sons would succeed in tennis. But in the beginning Andre Aggasi hated tennis and struggled with that for years even though he was very successful at it.  His autobiography reminded me that, although we may not always like what we are doing all of the time, hard work and a commitment to excellence pays off in the long run.

9. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
I guess I would say to them, think very carefully about why you are doing what you are doing and make sure you are doing it for the right reasons or don’t do it at all. People do well when they enjoy and are passionate about what they are doing. Research is not a situation in which you can guarantee success. It is not like some jobs where you have goals for the week and usually by Friday at 5pm you will have succeeded in those aims. In a research environment your progress is uncertain. You have to have the drive and discipline to stick at the job through frustrations knowing that if you do so you are likely to be successful.

May 2010

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