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Profile of Stanley Zlotkin

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Dr. Stanley Zlotkin

Dr. Stanley Zlotkin, OC, MD, PhD, FRCP(C)

  • Senior Scientist, Child Health Evaluative Sciences
  • Vice-President, Medical and Academic Affairs
  • Staff Physician, Gastroenterology, Hepatology, Nutrition
  • Medical Director of the Nutrition Support Program
  • Professor, Paediatrics, Nutritional Services and Public Health Sciences

1. Where are you from? /Where did you study?
I am originally from Toronto and my undergraduate degree is from the University of Toronto in ecology. After that I went to medical school at McMaster University, and then I did paediatric training at McGill. I came back to the University of Toronto to do a PhD in nutritional sciences.

2. What are you researching right now?
I’m primarily interested in the relationship between iron and how it impacts on the severity and intensity of malaria in Africa. In partnership with the Ministry of Health in Ghana and supported by a grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH), I’m using “Sprinkles” which I developed in my research in the past, as a delivery system for the iron. But the research is actually not on nutrition per say but on the impact of minerals on susceptibility to malaria infection.

I am also working on a project in Bangledesh right now looking at ways to increase infant survival. Thirty per cent of all babies in the developing world die within the first month of life and they usually die of infection. They become infected because the environment they live in is not very clean. So this is research looking at child survival using a new type of waterless hand sanitizer on the mother and other people in the household to see if we can decrease the spread of infection from the environment, including the mother, to the baby, within the first month of life. I am just beginning this project and it is a collaboration with an NGO called BRAC and the BRAC School of Public Health. I have worked with them for the last ten to twelve years on various projects.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
One of my favourite scientists is Dr. Charles Scriver from McGill. He’s a metabolic geneticist who I met during my training there. The reason why he is my medical mentor is because I love his approach to problems. He is a focused thinker, he asks questions in a very clear way and he likes to take a big picture approach to problems. He would ask population type questions – for example – why is this genetic trait more frequent in this population than another? He was a great influence during my paediatric training.

4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
Because my focus is on public health, I would have to say the germ theory or the identification that bacteria or small organisms have the capacity to spread disease was a major breakthrough and the first step in understanding the disease process. Before that, people thought diseases were caused by vapors and evil spirits. The germ theory led to the development of antibiotics.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I am actually very passionate about ice hockey. I love playing hockey. Depending on the time of the year, I play anywhere from one to three times per week. I love to read and I do some painting and I love choral music.

6. Why science?
Well, I think there are a couple reasons. One is I greatly appreciate the concept of asking questions and having an opportunity to answer the questions. I think that one can be quite creative in science and I think that one can express ones passions through science. I like the fact that science can ask big questions that affect populations or absolutely tiny questions about how cells talk to each other. I think nature and biology are fascinating and I have just always had an interest in how things work. Most of our science is driven by hypothesis, which is basically just stating a problem and the creative part is figuring out ways that you can actually solve or understand the problems.

7. Why SickKids?
SickKids is the only place I have ever worked but I have travelled a lot in my career. And I have to say SickKids is a unique place. It is unique because it values research and science at the same level that it values patient care and education. There is an infrastructure here that allows one to do research in a relatively unimpaired way. Another really important thing is that the support of research and science comes from the top of the institution all the way down. The culture of the organization is about discovery and making a difference. Plus I think working in an institution where we have access to patients makes a huge difference. We probably have the widest and biggest assortment of patients of any paediatric institution. The final thing is that this institution allows researchers to take chances and sometimes make mistakes. If people only did things where they knew the answer before they started, it would be pretty boring.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
There is quite a lot of controversy on whether or not people should provide iron to children who are living in malaria endemic areas. It is an important question because many children have iron deficiency and anemia and they also have malaria. Right now no one knows what to do with children with anemia if they live in a malaria endemic area.

9. What are you reading right now?
I just finished a book called The Quants. It describes the role of physicists on Wall Street who were involved in the financial meltdown of 2009. It is a fascinating book.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
Follow your passion. Whatever you do make sure it is something that you are absolutely interested in. If that is the case you’ll never be bored or have any regrets.

August 2010

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