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About the Institute

Profile of Steven Miller

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Dr. Steven Miller

By: Brianna Bendici

Dr. Steven Miller, MD, CM, MAS, FRCPC

  • Head, Neurology and the Centre for Brain & Mental Health, The Hospital for Sick Children
  • Senior Scientist, Neurosciences & Mental Health
  • Professor, Department of Paediatrics

1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I am originally from Montreal. I attended medical school at McGill University and also did my neurology residency at McGill. After my residency, I did my postdoctoral fellowship in neonatal neurology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and came back to Canada in 2005. I was at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver until September 2012 when I moved to SickKids.

2. What are you researching right now?
Currently, the focus of our research group is to learn how we can provide intensive care to newborns in ways that promote optimal brain development. We focus on babies who are at a high risk of developing impaired motor function, cognitive function or language development looking for ways to improve their developmental outcomes. Traditionally, we think of brain protection in terms of new medications that we might give to a baby to protect the brain from adversity; however, recently we have been increasingly recognizing the importance of the actions we take every day in the intensive care unit. We are especially interested to discover clinical care practices that promote optimal brain development. We believe that by improving “the everyday” experience of babies in our intensive care unit we will help these babies have better outcomes.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist and why?
My favourite scientist is my mentor, Dr. Donna Ferriero, from UCSF. She taught me that even more rewarding than the thrill of discovery is the thrill of seeing your mentees succeed. She also reinforced that being successful in science is about perseverance and never losing sight of what is driving you. In my case it is trying to improve the outcomes of sick babies. When I left her laboratory to start my own, she gave me a great quote from Dr. Rita Levi Montalcini that I am often reminded of: “I don’t believe there would be any science at all without intuition.”

4. What in your opinion is the most important scientific breakthrough and why?
It is so hard to identify one single breakthrough so I’ll pick something contemporary: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). When US President Barrack Obama launched the BRAIN initiative in the United States, he remarked,”… we can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom.  But we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears”. MRI gives us a window on the brain and this has really revolutionized our understanding of the part of us that makes us who we are: our brain. MRI has also enabled advances in how we care for sick children and how we can promote better outcomes.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
My family. My wife and I have two young children and our favorite thing in the world is spending time as a family. We all love sports so we are busy playing together or watching our children as avid soccer and hockey players. We also love to travel together; we love seeing different cultures, trying new foods, and learning about different places together.

6. Why science?
I was always interested in science growing up and thought of a career in medicine but it was only during my paediatric neurology training that I became passionate about science and really wanted to improve upon things in this field. In a relatively brief career I have already seen incredible advances in neurology. If you look at brain injury in a newborn, something that was traditionally thought of as an untreatable condition, so much has changed! Today, when babies lack blood flow or oxygen at birth we cool them for 72 hours. For every seven babies who are cooled, there is one baby that will not develop cerebral palsy or cognitive impairments.  

I love taking care of patients. In a field like neurology there is so much more to learn and to improve on in terms of the treatments we have to offer. Science is the way to move that forward. With advances in new genetic and imaging technologies, I am excited by the potential for new ways we will be able to treat diseases and improve outcomes of children with brain diseases.

7. Why SickKids?
I can only think of a few places in the world that have both the breadth and depth of expertise that exists at SickKids. Doing the research that I am involved in, really requires a village and I’ve been completely impressed by the collaborative spirit here. Everyone is so quick to open their doors and try and help because of this strong desire to improve on what we are doing. SickKids attracts so many bright individuals from so many disciplines that it really is a privilege to be part of this team.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
I think that the question of how can we treat the fetus with congenital heart disease in ways that promote optimal brain development is the most up-and-coming question. This is a very new question and requires a whole new set of collaborators. For example, in thinking of how to improve brain development in the fetus with congenital heart disease, cardiologists, obstetricians, imaging scientists and neurologists are coming together. In work being done with Dr. Mike Seed here we can now look at how oxygen is getting to the brain of the fetus with congenital heart disease. With new MRI tools and a great team of collaborators, he is opening a new window for intervention for improving outcomes.   

9. What are you reading right now?
I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction. I just finished The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
I feel so lucky to have a career in science that if you are thinking about it, I say jump in. Do it and stick with it.

11. What does the SickKids' Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning (PGCRL) mean to you?
I think that the PGCRL embodies the collaborative spirit at SickKids. The design is so enhancing of collaborations that it really is a pleasure to work there.

May 2016

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