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About the Institute

Profile of Uri Tabori

Dr. Uri Tabori

Dr. Uri Tabori, MD

  • Scientist
  • Principal Investigator, Brain Tumour Research Centre
  • Staff Physician, Haematology/Oncology
  • Assistant Professor, Paediatrics, University of Toronto

Where are you from? Where did you study?
I am originally from Israel. I completed a six-year MD program at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. After that I completed residency and fellowship in paediatric haematology oncology in Tel-Aviv. I later came to Toronto for a combined fellowship in research and neuro-oncology.

What are you researching right now?
My lab is looking at cancer genetics and genetics in cancer. Cancer genetics is primarily concerned with inherited predisposition to cancer whereas genetics in cancer concerns the genetic basis of human disease. We are looking specifically at paediatric brain tumours; taking results from basic science research and moving them into a clinical setting as quickly as possible. Another fundamental aspect of our research is what makes tumours grow indefinitely. We do this through understanding telomere biology which governs immortality and is one of the hallmarks of cancer.

Who is your all time favourite scientist and why?
This is somewhat impossible to answer but in fiction there are some ideal scientists who could do the impossible. Emmett Brown for example enabled us to expand our imagination through the invention of the time machine in the movie “Back to the Future.” Another classic example is Professor Farnsworth from the television show “Futurama” who comes up with crazy and possibly life-changing inventions in every episode. I have chosen these two fictional characters because they are constantly coming up with amazing ideas that contradict common scientific conventions. Interestingly, if you look at science fiction novels from the past fifty years, all of these incredibly futuristic things are happening and yet no one was able to predict the information and communication revolution that we have today.

That’s the kind of revolutionary scientist Darwin was. The theory of evolution represents a dramatic break from the course that science was on during that time. He was able to see beyond the religious dogma of the period and take science in a completely different and unexpected direction.

What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
I think that ‘breakthrough’ is what changes our thinking and behavior. With that in mind I think there are really three key concepts that have shaped contemporary scientific thought. First of all, Gallileo Galilei disputed the idea that we (Earth) are the centre of the universe. This idea was contrary to scripture and as we all know, Gallileo paid a very high price for challenging the Catholic Church. Then Darwin took that idea one step further and said that not only are we NOT the centre of the universe, but human beings are merely one stage in the larger process of evolution. As you know, this is still debated, even in our schools. Thirdly, when Freud began to explore the mysterious world of the unconscious mind, he deduced that humans are not even consciously in control of their own fate.

What are your major interests outside of the lab?
My family is the focus of my interest. Unfortunately they have to join me in my other hobbies such as exploring the wilderness, sports and visual arts.

Why science?
Why not science? I was drawn to medicine since childhood and science is the future of medicine. Science and technology govern our decision-making in making diagnoses, developing treatments and providing prognoses. In the future, science will enable us to be more objective and less subjective when we manage children with complex medical issues.

Why SickKids?
When I finished my medical training in Israel, I was given several options to further train in North America. I chose SickKids because we have an excellent combination of basic research and neuro-oncology here. Paediatric neuro-oncology is actually quite a rare specialty.

The main reason I chose SickKids though, is for the people. When I first started working here, somebody said to me, “It’s a big place, people do not need to be nice but everyone here is very nice.” That’s my experience of SickKids, you get to work with the leading clinicians and scientists in the world and are treated like an equal. I also fell in love with Toronto – what an unbelievably liberal, international and friendly city.

What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
In the past, technology was behind medicine. We had clinical knowledge with no technical abilities to help us. Now technology has moved beyond clinician knowledge. For example, with the new tools we have acquired in molecular biology and genetics, we can determine if someone is harbouring a gene for a deadly disease. The question has now become, what do we do with this knowledge?

We lack the clinical correlates of such a finding. This information could affect a person’s life in multiple ways including ability to be insured, plan a family and work. A myriad of ethical questions have opened up and we have no framework to deal with them.

May 2009

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