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About the Institute

Profile of Matt Wood

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Dr. Matthew Wood

By: Katrina King

Dr. Matthew Wood, PhD

  • Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Neurosciences & Mental Health
  • Biomedical engineer

1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I am originally from St. Louis, Missouri. This is where I met my current supervisor, Dr. Greg Borschel. I grew up spending half my life in Missouri and the other half in Florida. I had a great childhood living in Florida, enjoying its endless sunshine and heat which now seems like a stark contrast to Canada. I did my undergraduate degree at Saint Louis University, studying biomedical engineering. I then did my graduate work at Washington University in St. Louis, also studying biomedical engineering.

2. What are you researching right now?
Presently, I research the use of advanced biomaterials in delivering proteins or drugs to treat peripheral nerve injury. My current work focuses on treating nerves that have experienced a long period of delay between the time they are damaged and the time the surgeon is able to treat them. When the surgeon goes to repair these damaged nerves, or nerves that have been disconnected from their end organ such as muscle or skin, the nerves have a harder time regenerating if they have experienced this delay. Researchers have found that there are many growth factors that could help jump start this process and aid the surgeon. For that reason, I’m designing products, or materials, that a surgeon could potentially use in the operating room while he or she repairs the nerve. These materials could really complement a surgeon’s work. This is why working with Dr. Borschel has been a really good fit. I am able to watch surgeries, understanding exactly what the surgeon needs while receiving direct feedback which I wouldn’t experience outside of a hospital setting like SickKids.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
At the risk of sounding cliché, I really like Thomas Edison. I like him because he was a pioneering engineer within the United States. Some may think that he didn’t really do anything overly mind-blowing or brilliant but he radically improved existing products. This is why I appreciate Thomas Edison. He holds many qualities of an engineer I see myself gaining while I aim to enhance fundamental ideas already implemented in the field of medicine. This is what I do, I take an existing idea and try to fix it to make it better.

4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
The unification of the electromagnetic theory, achieved by Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell, is a significant scientific breakthrough that really stands out in my mind. Together, Faraday and Maxwell set the theoretical foundations for electromagnetic field theory. Their pioneering work is responsible for many things. If they hadn’t achieved this enormous breakthrough in physics we wouldn’t have all these cool, taken-for-granted gadgets we own and use today. The imaging modalities we have at SickKids are in part possible due to scientific breakthroughs achieved by people such as Faraday and Maxwell.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I love hanging out with my dog Hilda. Hilda is a mix breed, part Australian Shepherd and part Rottweiler. Together, we usually visit the city’s parks, going on a lot of walks and exploring new areas. When I’m not with her, I enjoy martial arts but, to unwind, I love finding new movies to watch. I am a huge movie buff. One of my all time favorite cult movie is Big Trouble in Little China. The film is a mix of Chinese mysticism, martial arts, science fiction and horror with comedy intermixed into it. You can always be sure to have a good time watching it. I enjoy how the film doesn’t take itself seriously; making it a movie I could easily watch over and over again.

6. Why science?
Both my parents started their careers in the field of science. My dad started as a pharmacist and my mom was a nurse. For my entire life, I have always been exposed to science. The trade-off was that I loved math but wanted a career in medical science. Since I always loved math the best, I was led to a career in biomedical engineering – the ideal field to combine my mathematical talents with my passion for medical science.

7. Why SickKids?
The biggest thing leading me to SickKids was my mentor, Dr. Greg Borschel. When I met him, he was about to join SickKids, talking enthusiastically and positively about it. After doing some research of my own, I realized he was right and realized how much SickKids collaborated with its surrounding institutions, such as the University of Toronto. It was really exciting to me, knowing that so many talented researchers and scientists were working in, and around, SickKids. I also really wanted to work in a hospital setting because I found it really interesting to work directly with clinicians. Your work is given a different perspective when you are not isolated in your university setting. In the hospital setting you are able to ask very different questions to clinicians then you would usually ask your fellow engineers.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
In my field right now there is controversy around the application of growth factors to encourage nerve regeneration. Growth factors are critical proteins involved in the development and regeneration of tissues, and often times cause cellular growth or proliferation. Unrestrained growth of cells can lead to tumours or other unwanted side effects. Although there is a growing body of work showing their benefits, there has not been a lot of work done examining the long-term safety of delivering these growth factors to animals. In my field, we are really trying to localize the delivery of the proteins so that we inject them at the site. This is an alternative to injecting them in the blood stream using biomaterials. This could be very helpful and a step in the right direction but the biggest problem with adding growth factors is that it may cause tumours to grow. This is a major hurdle the field will have to work around. This will also be a deciding factor into whether or not what I am working on is going to be applicable.

9. What are you reading right now?
I love science fiction. The book that I’m reading right now is called The Strain written by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro. It is the first novel of a vampire trilogy. I have never really been into vampire books but I recently decided to give this one a try because Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite movie directors. Knowing this, it piqued my interest to experience his writing style.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
It is important for someone new to the field to choose a good mentor. Your mentor will really make or break your research career. They will help motivate you to continue your research and stay on the right track. Since research can be fairly frustrating to begin with, it is important that you have an encouraging boss to help you get through the inevitable frustration. A mentor definitely needs to be on the low-stress side because if you care about your research, you already will have plenty of stress when things don’t go well in the lab.

11. What does the Research & Learning Tower mean to you?
The Research & Learning Tower will be really interesting. Since the labs will be open concept, it will be really beneficial and nice to collaborate with other individuals and learn about all the new projects going on. At Washington University, I got to experience open concept labs. I would get to see what others were doing and ask them about it. It really facilitated conversation as opposed to a closed-door working environment. I would love the opportunity to stay at SickKids after my training and experience this great new facility.

July 2011