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About the Institute

Profile of Binita Kamath

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Dr. Binita Kamath

Dr. Binita Kamath, MD, MBBChir, MRCP

  • Associate Scientist, Genetics & Genome Biology
  • Staff Gastroenterologist, Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition
  • Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Department of Paediatrics

1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I was born in London, England and I studied at Cambridge University. I did some of my training in England before working at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for 10 years. I’ve been at SickKids for three years. I love it here – I think Canada is the perfect mix between England and the United States.

2. What are you researching right now?
I’m interested in liver diseases that are cholestatic – that cause jaundice, particularly those that are inherited and have a genetic basis. I spend most of my time studying Alagille syndrome. It is a condition where children have liver disease as well as disease in other organs like the heart, eyes, face or skeleton. It is often inherited from a parent and the severity of disease varies: some parents can be very mildly affected whereas their children have a much more severe form of the disease. I do mostly translational research, working with lab collaborators to translate basic science to the bedside.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist and why?   
Michelangelo –- as an artist and a scientist he was somebody who did it all.

4. What in your opinion is the most important scientific breakthrough and why?
In my opinion, it is the discovery of DNA by James D. Watson and Francis Crick. My primary interest is the genetic basis of disease and if we didn’t understand the structure of the double helix,  my research would not be possible. Another reason I’ve always felt very close to that particular discovery is because it happened at Cambridge University where I studied. It is amazing to have been to a university like Cambridge where all these amazing discoveries happened before you and you can feel as though you are a part of that greatness, albeit a very tiny one!

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
Mostly, running around with my kids! Other than that, I love exercising. I do an intense boot camp at 6:30 in the morning. If I miss it I’m incredibly grumpy. My morning exercise is really what keeps me going. We have a lot of competitiveness at work but I like to translate that into a completely different forum. The other thing that I love about boot camp is that for one hour in the morning my mind is completely blank. I don’t get that for the other 23 hours of the day; I don’t even think I get that while I’m sleeping.

My other main activity is that I read a lot of fiction – I like the escape. I particularly like books that have to do with fantasy – vampires, witches and all that good stuff.     

6. Why science?
Science is a wonderful career where you can touch people’s lives and make a difference but you can also challenge your mind at the same time. I think there are lots of great careers out there where you get to work with people but perhaps, they may not be intellectually challenging in the same way as science. I think it’s amazing that I have the opportunity to work with such brilliant colleagues in science and at the same time I have the satisfaction of knowing that we are ultimately trying to improve health care for children. In the corporate environment, individuals often compete with each other because only a few people can get ahead. In science, even though we are competitive and ambitious, we are all working toward a common goal. Our goals are to push science forward and to improve healthcare outcomes for children. At the end of the day, there are no winners and losers, it’s just about pushing things forward, so that’s really rewarding.

7. Why SickKids?
SickKids is the best children’s hospital in Canada and it’s one of the top five children’s hospitals in the world. I came from CHOP, also in the top five children’s hospitals in the world, and my plan is to do a word circuit of all five!

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
Biliary atresia, which is a blockage in the tubes that carry a liquid called bile from the liver to the gallbladder, is the number one cause for paediatric liver transplantation. However, we don’t truly understand its mechanism and we don’t fully understand how to treat it effectively. That’s really the biggest challenge area in our field.

9. What are you reading right now?
I just finished A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness and it was great. It’s about the relationship between a vampire and a witch. The sequel to that book is called Shadow of the Night. It is set in Elizabethan England and the characters meet all sorts of famous philosophers and poets from that time which is so interesting.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
It is really important to find your passion! Then, you’ve got to find your niche – either you take a unique angle of a common problem or you study a rare problem. This is a way, in a relatively short amount of time, to become an expert in your area of work and to become the authority on it. You’ve got to find that unique position in the scientific world that you are going to occupy.

11. What does the SickKids Centre for Research and Learning mean to you?
It’s going to raise the profile of the SickKids Research Institute in a tremendous way. It will give us a home where we can interact with all different scientists all together in one place.

December 2012

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