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Profile of Ian Scott

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Dr. Ian Scott

By: Daniella Vasilovsky

Dr. Ian Scott, PhD

  • Scientist, Developmental & Stem Cell Biology
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto

1. Where are you from? Where did you study?
I am originally from Ottawa and I went to Queen’s University for my undergraduate degree. I completed my PhD at the University of Toronto at Mount Sinai Hospital and my post-doctorate training in San Francisco.

2. What are you researching right now?
I am currently using the zebrafish embryo to study heart development. I am interested in studying how cells assemble to form a proper heart and what can go wrong if things don’t happen properly, like for example, congenital heart defects. We use the zebrafish embryo to model human disease and to study how “normal” development occurs.

Ultimately we would like to use the zebrafish to devise means to promote heart regeneration in people. A lot of animals, like the zebrafish, have adult hearts that can actually regenerate, whereas humans can die after a heart attack and their hearts do not replace lost cardiac tissue. We hope to use what we learn about the early embryonic heart to figure out new ways to repair the adult heart and translate this knowledge from zebrafish to humans.

During my PhD, I really enjoyed talks about zebrafish. It is a vertebrate just like humans, but because the embryos are laid externally and are transparent, you can watch all development happen in real time. You can watch cells divide and move around, and see everything at the visual level, which is both experimentally powerful and aesthetically pleasing to me.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
Historically speaking, Charles Darwin is an inspiring individual to me and was one of the all-time greatest scientists. He was someone who completely changed dogma and through his powers of observation he was able to understand a great deal about the world we live in.

I am also intrigued by Leonard Zon, who is a more modern and current scientist in Boston. I find him very inspiring because he is a medical doctor and has his PhD. He conducts a lot of basic research surrounding zebrafish but also studies primary leukemia in people. Dr. Zon is a wonderful example of someone who manages to bridge basic science with medical application, also known as bench to bedside. He is a very positive person, particularly with people who are early on in their career, and aids in their development.  

4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
I think one of the most fundamental scientific breakthroughs is the helix: understanding the genetic code, the structure of DNA and how genes work.

More recently, the discovery of embryonic stem cells and the way to interrogate gene function in mice has been an important breakthrough.

In my field, the demonstration about 12 years ago that the zebrafish heart can regenerate, opened up a model to study how we can think about new ways of repairing the human heart.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I have two boys who are always keeping me busy and I tend to spend a lot of time with them outside the lab. I have always enjoyed sports, especially ice hockey and soccer. I find they are a great form of stress relief.

6. Why science?
I have always been curious about how things work. When I was in undergrad I spent a couple of summers working in a lab and that is when I figured out I wanted to pursue a career in science. I was drawn to a career of always trying new things and interacting with interesting people who are very passionate about what they do.

7. Why SickKids?
After completing my PhD in Toronto, I became very enthusiastic in the research done here at SickKids. The size of the organization, the close proximity to other hospitals and the opportunity to translate research into actual therapeutic outcomes really inspired me to pursue my career here. I always wanted to come back to Canada.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
The most controversial question in my field is about stem cells in the heart. There are two camps of thought about how much new heart muscle is built in our hearts. Some scientists believe people are born with a certain number of heart cells and that is all they have for the rest of their life. On the other hand, there are some scientists who believe there is a constant source of replenishment in our hearts that many others do not see in their experiments. This has been a very controversial area and has come down to how scientists interpret very sophisticated techniques in order to get their results.

9. What are you reading right now?
I am currently reading The Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin. I am onto the fourth book in the series. It is about medieval knights and dragons and people trying to become the king or queen, sort of like trying to get grants nowadays. I usually read biographical and historical books but I do enjoy reading fiction and fantasy as well.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
I think the best and only piece of advice is to only pursue research if you are really passionate about it. There is a long training period and no guarantees to get to a permanent position. The hours are really long and you have to go through undergrad research, a PhD, and post-doctorate training. You have to be able to overcome the fear of setbacks. It is like being an athlete; there are a lot of setbacks and then a few positive moments, or thousands of hours of training and a couple of highlight moments.

11. What does the SickKids Centre for Research and Learning mean to you?
It means a lot of things to me. Practically speaking, right now our zebrafish are three blocks down the road in the McMaster building. With the new centre being built, our fish will be in the same building as the lab, which will be a huge bonus for our trainees and help with our workload tremendously.

In the new building, I will be running into people all the time who do all kinds of research. Dr. Michael Taylor and I are actually doing a fish brain tumour project together right now, largely because we are on the same floor at MaRS and have had a lot of chances to talk about our work/share a beer. I think the building will allow for more examples like this, where researchers can work together to speed up the pace of discovery. I think that will be the major advantage of the new building. Science is ultimately driven by people and their creativity, and this building will provide more chances for people to talk and interact with each other.

July 2012

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