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About the Institute

Profile of Michael Taylor

Dr. Michael Taylor

Dr. Michael D. Taylor, MD, PhD, FRCS(C)

  • Principal Investigator, Arthur and Sonia Labatt Brain Tumour Research Centre
  • Scientist, Developmental & Stem Cell Biology
  • Neurosurgeon, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)
  • Assistant Professor, Departments of Surgery and Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto

Where are you from and where did you study?
I was born in Calgary but have lived all over Canada. I did my undergraduate work and MD at the University of Western Ontario and completed a PhD in neurosurgery at the University of Toronto. I spent time at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee doing a clinical fellowship in paediatric neuro-oncological surgery, followed by a research fellowship in developmental neurobiology. I also worked with Dr. Janet Rossant in her lab for one year before starting my own lab around three and a half years ago.

What are you researching right now?
My lab is primarily investigating the genetics and epigenetics of paediatric brain tumours, basically the cause of paediatric brain tumours. We are looking into their initiation, maintenance and progression and conducting this research using brain tumours collected from all over the world and mouse models. It’s actually a very exciting time to work in the field as there is so much rapid progress being made right now.

Who is your favourite all-time scientist, and why?
Nicolai Vavilov. He was a prominent botanist in czarist and soviet era Russia. He was also one of the earliest proponents of genetics. His views were in direct conflict with those held by Trofim Lysenko, Director of Soviet Biology under Stalin. Lysenko rejected Mendelian genetics in favour of the hybridization theories of Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin, which were more in keeping with Stalinist ideology. Ultimately Lysenko ended up creating a now discredited blend of science and politics referred to as Lysenkoism. Vavilov’s vocal criticism of Lysenkoism eventually landed him in prison where he was tortured and eventually starved to death. He refused to compromise his scientific principles, and ultimately, he died for his beliefs.

What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
It would have to be the discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick. The realization that cancer is a disease of the DNA and being able to identify the mutations can lead to really effective treatments.

What are your major interests outside the lab?
My children! I help them with their homework every night – it’s a big priority for me. I also love to cook and downhill ski.

Why science?
I’ve always been interested in science, ever since I was a kid. Science is the mechanism for understanding the natural world.

Why SickKids?
I did part of my training here so I was already familiar with the great work happening at SickKids Research Institute. In my opinion, SickKids also has the single best paediatric neurosurgery program in the world. There is a critical mass of knowledgeable, well-connected people here at the hospital and the Research Institute. SickKids is set up for success.

What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
I think the major controversy right now is about finding a balance between large, government-funded projects and smaller scale, investigator-driven science. Now that we are able to sequence cancer genomes much more quickly and cheaply there is a movement to pool all of the money into this area and sequence them all. Eventually all of the known cancers will be sequenced, so it is more of a matter of do we make a push for this now and sacrifice some of the smaller projects? Or do we let this process happen more gradually? For example, we are already attempting to sequence portions of the genome of some paediatric brain tumours here at SickKids.

May 2009

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