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About the Institute

Profile of Rod McInnes

Dr. Rod McInnes
Dr. Rod McInnes

Dr. Rod McInnes, MD, PhD

  • Senior Scientist, Developmental & Stem Cell Biology
  • University Professor, University of Toronto
  • Professor, Paediatrics & Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto
  • Chair, Anne and Max Tannenbaum Chair in Molecular Medicine
  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research Scientific Director, Institute of Genetics

Where are you from and where did you study?
I am from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I did my B.Sc. and MD at Dalhousie University, and my PhD at McGill University in Montreal. My postdoctoral work was done at Massachusetts General Hospital, and my paediatric and genetic clinical training at both The Montreal Children’s and Boston Children’s Hospitals.

What are you researching right now?
The work in our lab is currently focused on two research areas. First, we are studying several synaptic proteins that we have discovered, in an exciting collaboration with Dr. Michael Salter, a prominent neurophysiologist also here at the Research Institute. We are learning how these proteins work in the brain to facilitate the “conversation” that occurs between neurons involved in memory.

We are also researching retinal degenerations, a group of diseases comparable to having Alzheimer’s disease, but affecting the retina rather than the brain. In other words, the light-sensitive cells of the retina – the photoreceptors – have a mutant gene in these diseases. For some reason they function wonderfully for decades, then die. We don’t really have a clue as to what is going on in those cells during all those years, nor do we know why they suddenly die. In fact, this is “the” big question in all genetic neurodegenerative disorders. Our big goal is to understand what is happening during all those years, and why the cells suddenly give up the ghost.

Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
One of the scientists I most admire is Dr. Eric S. Lander. He is the founding Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. I respect both the massive impact he has had on the Human Genome Project and subsequently, the central role he has had in applying the information we learned from the Human Genome Project to the study of human disease.

What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
Ever? Well, I’m a geneticist, so I would have to say the discovery of DNA as the genetic material of life, by James Watson and Francis Crick, in 1953 (Watson & Crick).

Why science?
It just always appealed to me for reasons that are difficult to articulate. Even as a high school student, science just fascinated me. One attraction was the idea that one could make a permanent contribution to human knowledge. That’s hard to resist, or at least it was for me.

Why SickKids?
I have remained at SickKids my entire career because when I came 30 years ago it was the best place in Canada to do health research, and it still is. The excellence is due to the terrific quality of the SickKids scientific and clinical staff, to the remarkable leadership of the Research Institute that we’ve had over the years and to the resources here for research, which are unmatched in this country.

What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
How best to apply the genetic information we have obtained about common diseases to patients with those diseases. In other words, can the promise of “personalized medicine” be fully realized?

November 2008