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About the Institute

Profile of Brian Cox

Dr. Brian Cox
Dr. Brian Cox

Dr. Brian Cox, PhD

  • Post-doctoral Fellow, Developmental & Stem Cell Biology

1. Where are you from? Where did you study?
I am from North York, Toronto. I did my undergraduate and masters degrees in applied biochemistry at the University of Guelph. I then pursued my PhD at the University of Toronto and I am now completing my post-doctorate with Dr. Janet Rossant here at SickKids. I am focusing on developmental biology but not in the classical sense. I like to use more modern approaches like proteomics, genomics and transcriptional profiling.

2. What are you researching right now?
I am working on a few projects right now that are quite diverse.

One of the proteomics projects I am working on looks at human and mouse placentas, through microarray and proteomics profiling. This is a large collaborative project with scientists at University of Toronto, The Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai and the University Health Network Research Institutes. Recently, we have published the similarities and differences of gene expression in mouse and human placental vascular regions. In the next phase of this project we have been comparing the common set of expressed proteins with changes in gene expression in placental diseases like preeclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). These diseases are fairly common affecting about five per cent of all pregnancies. Through our research, we want to see which ones associated with the disease in humans are also expressed in animal models. By uncovering this, we can try to model the human disease in a mouse model. This is a project we have been working on for a few years.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
I am going to go with Charles Darwin because he was an observational scientist and that’s what I am. I believe in the power of observation. When you approach a project with a preconceived hypothesis you may blind yourself to what is really going on, as you try and fit all of your data into what you want the result to be rather than what it really is. Darwin went through life observing and used what he saw and learned to come up with theories that would best explain his observations. I believe that is a very careful way of doing science.

4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
I am going to stick with the Darwin theme and suggest evolution. Once we realized that things can evolve, we were then given the opportunity to think about why. How do organisms carry sets of traits and how do those traits get altered through evolution? If you link that in with (Gregor) Mendel’s work you realize that there are these units called genes and they can be altered and that’s evolution. The concept of evolution really underpins everything.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
When I was younger I was in several bands and I played a lot of music. I still have a lot of musical equipment and I play the guitar occasionally. I also enjoy being outdoors biking and camping or playing with my three-year-old son.

6. Why science?
I don’t think I chose science, it chose me. It was just the thing that I always did. I always had questions and I was always observing and then trying to understand how everything worked and why it behaved in a particular way.

I can remember eating an apple when I was a kid. I bit into it and saw the seeds inside and it occurred to me that we don’t eat the seeds. I thought why does this piece of food we eat have a piece that we don’t eat? That just didn’t make any sense to me. So then I asked why and my mother showed me that when you plant the seeds you would get a tree. I am always curious and that is why science and I are a perfect fit.

7. Why SickKids?
I think SickKids is an interesting blend of corporate and academic. I worked at a start up biotech company for several years and although I don’t have any interest in going back, I know there are advantages of industry. SickKids is a large company in a sense and it has centralization and organization like a company has but it still has the academic feel and freedom to it. SickKids is an excellent place made up of a tremendous grouping of highly skilled and motivated people and that excites me. Most of the projects I am involved in here are collaborations with other researchers and I like that a lot.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
The most controversial question coming out of our field right now is: Does understanding the genetic cause of a disease actually lead to a cure? Everyone agrees that if we know the genetic cause of a disease then we are able to screen for it, but that doesn’t mean we can cure it. For example, since the discovery of the gene that causes cystic fibrosis (CF) it is easy to determine who has the disease. Patients of CF now have a longer life expectancy but it is not because we have cured the disease. Although we identified the disease-causing gene of CF 20 years ago and have developed many therapies, we still don’t have a “magic bullet” cure. I think that is the controversy now. We are getting better at identifying a disease-causing gene, but the question is: Are we getting better at finding the cures for genetic diseases?

September 2009