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About the Institute

Profile of Anne Griffiths

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Dr. Anne Griffiths

Dr. Anne Griffiths, MD, FRCP (C)

  • Associate Scientist, Child Health Evaluative Sciences
  • Division Head, Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition
  • Director, IBD Program, SickKids
  • Professor, Departments of Paediatrics, University of Toronto
  • SickKids Research Institute, Associate Scientist
  • Northbridge Chair in Inflammatory Bowel Disease

1. Where are you from? /Where did you study?
I was born in Montreal but moved to Toronto, as a child. I studied medicine at the University of Toronto and I did my paediatric residency and gastroenterology training at SickKids.

2. What are you researching right now?
My research has always been patient-based and/or translational, related to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Since the mid-1990’s we’ve had an interest in the genetic susceptibility to paediatric IBD. Many of our patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have a parent and/or sibling also affected with IBD. Therefore, we began to collect DNA from affected patients and their family members, and have collaborated in international multicenter initiatives leading to the identification of IBD susceptibility genes. Currently we are trying to better understand the function of such susceptibility genes in collaboration with Dr. Dana Philpott at the University of Toronto (NOD2/CARD15 gene) and Dr. Aleixo Muise at Sickkids (NADPH and IL-10 pathway genes).

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are complex disorders caused, we think, as a result of unknown environmental triggers, most likely microbial in nature, in genetically susceptible hosts. To try to reveal these triggers, we are collecting stool and biopsy samples from children at the time of first diagnosis for molecular profiling of the bacteria and other microbes in their intestinal tracts. We are also working hard to recruit healthy brothers and sisters of children with Crohn’s disease for a national gene, environment, microbe cohort study funded by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
If I were to pick someone I have never met I would pick Dr. Wilder Penfield. He was very famous in Montreal, where I was born and I think he made wonderful advancements to the understanding of the brain. If I were to pick someone that I have met, that would be a paediatric gastroenterologist in France named Jean-Pierre Hugot. I am very inspired by his work. He is a clinician-scientist who works with patients, yet managed to discover the first Crohn’s disease susceptibility gene (the NOD2/CARD15 gene). Not only was it the first discovered, but it is still the most important susceptibility gene in IBD.

4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
I think the discovery by Watson and Crick of DNA really changed science forever.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
Throughout most of my professional career, I was raising my four children. I have three sons and one daughter. They were involved in a lot of activities, and I enjoyed what they enjoyed. For example, I became a real hockey mom.

6. Why science?
I think I chose medicine more than science. For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a doctor. It was later, after I was a staff gastroenterologist here at SickKids and was inspired by my colleagues, that I became interested more in the science underlying the medicine. When I was training there wasn’t the same emphasis on the merits of basic science to the medical profession that there is today.

7. Why SickKids?
I was always attracted to SickKids. When I was in medical school I would look at this building and think I wanted to be here. It was in large part related to my desire to practice medicine with children. Since I’ve worked here, I’ve come to respect this institution greatly. I get to travel around to a lot of other hospitals and I don’t think there are any that match this institution with the opportunities to do research, to bring that research to patients, and to network and be inspired by other clinicians and researchers.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
There are several controversial questions. One long standing question is whether a specific microbial organism will ever be found to be the cause of Crohn’s disease and if the eradication of that particular organism will lead to long term benefit for patients with this disease. The comparison that is always drawn is Helicobacter pylori and chronic peptic ulcer disease, where once that organism was discovered its eradication changed the outlook for patients.

Another controversy relates to treatments for Crohn’s disease and whether we should treat patients early with biologic drugs with the potential to completely heal the bowel, or is it reasonable to leave the bowel unhealed because some patients seem to manage fine throughout their lives even if it’s not healed.

9. What are you reading right now?
I’m currently reading a novel that takes place in Barcelona, Spain called In the Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It was given to me by a very good friend. I like reading books that are set in different places and time periods because it lets me get into that environment.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
My advice would be to train well, not be in a rush to get started and make sure you maximize your training opportunities, especially in your PhD and post-doctoral training. It is important to get the necessary mentoring in the right environments. Secondly, my advice for clinician-scientists would be to make sure your clinical work relates to your research and vice versa. It is through that, that clinician-scientists bring something special to medical research.

11. What does the Research & Learning Tower mean to you?
The Tower is going to be a wonderful space for researchers at SickKids to be housed together and to facilitate interactions. I’m particularly excited about the space that’s going to be made available for patient-based researchers, and hope that it will facilitate our networking with basic scientists.

July 2011

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