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About the Institute

Profile of Paul Frankland

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Dr. Paul Frankland

By: Daniel Puiatti

Dr. Paul Frankland, PhD

  • Senior Scientist, Neurosciences & Mental Health
  • Associate Professor, Departments of Physiology, University of Toronto
  • Canada Research Chair, Cognitive Neurobiology

1. Where are you from and Where did you study?
I am originally from Folkestone, England, a small seaside town, not too far from London. I did my undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Sheffield, in the north of England, and then came to Toronto to do my PhD in neuroscience at the University of Toronto. After my PhD I moved on to a post-doctoral position with Dr. Alcino Silva, first at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York and later at UCLA. Dr. Silva is a pioneer in using mouse genetic approaches to study learning and memory. While these approaches are widely used now, at that time mouse genetic approaches were new. Dr. Alcino was a great mentor, always making us feel like we were working on the cutting edge. In 2003 I came to SickKids.

2. What are you researching right now?
We’re interested in memory—how the brain encodes, stores and maintains information. In particular, our work is focused on two questions. First, where are memories stored? We think that memories are stored in distributed sites across the brain, and we’re trying to identify the various components of these memory networks. Second, while almost all neurons are generated during development, new neurons continue to be produced in the hippocampus, a key region of the brain responsible for memory, throughout adulthood. We are trying to understand how these new neurons contribute to memory processing.   

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
Craig Venter, the American biologist and entrepreneur, is my favourite scientist. Frustrated by the slow progress of the publically-funded effort to sequence the human genome, Venter set up a private sector company that developed sequencing tools to do it faster and cheaper. What I admire most is his ambition to do things better and faster. I try and convey the same sentiment to my trainees.

4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
I would say The Human Genome Project. This blueprint provides an essential framework for understanding both normal function, as well as dysfunction in disease.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
My most important role outside the lab is being a dad to my two and half year-old daughter, so this is my primary interest. I am also a bit of a sports fan, both playing and watching. I have just stopped playing football (due to a knee injury), but I still run pretty much every work day morning. I also enjoy watching sports. I am a big football fan; my team is West Ham from London. I grab any chance I get to watch football.

6. Why science?
I did not grow up thinking I was going to be a scientist, but I did grow up with a fascination for numbers and statistics. Back then I would pore over sports stats and try to identify patterns that weren’t immediately obvious. As a scientist, I find I do essentially the same thing and try to look for patterns among vast amounts of data. The only difference is that I am now trying to understand how memories are organized in the brain, rather than what is stopping England from winning the football World Cup! In addition, I have always enjoyed writing. At the end of university I basically had to choose between a career in journalism and a career in science. Science won, but my interest in writing has always helped me in my scientific career. Apart from designing and interpreting experiments, one of the core jobs as a scientist is communication. We’re often dealing with quite complex ideas and data, and the challenge is to simplify things into language that is free of jargon and accessible to everyone.

7. Why SickKids?
SickKids was an incredible opportunity. It is one of the premier places in the world to do research, and perhaps the biggest draw is the quality of my colleagues. There are so many excellent scientists here and my research benefits from having these people around.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
We’re getting to the point where we can develop strategies that can be used to enhance memory function. While no one would argue that these approaches should not be used to treat patients with memory loss (for example, in Alzheimer’s disease), it is less clear whether these approaches can or should be used in healthy individuals. In the Olympics when athletes use drugs to run faster and jump further, we call it cheating. But what about drugs that would make us remember better? Get better exam results?

9. What are you reading right now?
I read Move with Elmo, every night to my daughter.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
I’m not sure I’d stop at one piece of advice as there are so many elements that, in my view, contribute to success. Work hard. Set ambitious goals. Think carefully about what an experiment will tell you before starting it. And be broad. I listen to talks from all areas of biology and I think our work always benefits from being able to integrate ideas and approaches from other disciplines.

11. What does the Research & Learning Tower mean to you?
I am excited about moving into the Tower. The main benefit is that it brings everyone into a single location, a place where we can all interact and work together. My lab has collaborations with six out of the seven current programs in the Research Institute, and being in one place will simply make it easier to interact more frequently which can only enhance our science.

November 2011

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