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About the Institute

Profile of Christopher Macgowan

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Dr. Christopher Macgowan

By: Jacob Sintzel

Dr. Christopher Macgowan, PhD

  • Senior Scientist, Translational Medicine
  • Associate Professor, Medical Biophysics and Medical Imaging, University of Toronto

1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I’m originally from Vancouver. I studied physics at the University of British Columbia (UBC) for my undergraduate degree as part of their honours physics program. I then transitioned into medical biophysics here in Toronto for graduate school, which is also where I completed my PhD.

2. What are you researching right now?
My work largely deals with cardiovascular disease in paediatrics, and how imaging modalities like MRI and ultrasound can be used in this field. The majority of my lab is focused on fetal imaging with MRI, specifically with developing new methods to look at pregnancy. I love multidisciplinary research and that’s one of the reasons I’m focused on translational medicine. The concept of innovative new techniques and applying it to clinical problems really appeals to me. I work closely with cardiology and radiology, and have recently started working with obstetrics as well as even neurology. I love being in the mix of multiple disciplines and solving these interesting health problems.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist and why?
I would say Richard Feynman is my all-time favourite scientist. He is a well-known physicist and was very creative in coming up with different ways of looking at problems, but he could communicate them to the general population. He did a lot of quantum mechanics as it relates to understanding basic interactions of sub-atomic particles like quarks. He’s also well known for creating a series of lectures that were recorded and put into books. They convey physics in a very approachable way to people wanting to learn about physics. I read a lot of his texts in high school and have read a lot of other material written about him and his life. He travelled the world and did interesting things like play drums in strange places; his life story is intriguing.

4. What in your opinion is the most important scientific breakthrough and why?
Recently, it’s the study of CRISPR for gene editing. CRISPR is creating new classes of scientific animal models for studying. The potential for fixing some genetic issues in paediatric (and adult) patients with CRISPR is very exciting and offers a lot of hope for how we will treat conditions in the future. This technology has had a really dramatic and fast impact. It is quickly changing the field of genetics.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
My son does dance and I really like attending his competitions. I’m also really big on video games and gardening. I used to do a lot of cycling, but I haven’t had the time to do it much anymore. I also love art and do a lot of sketching and painting when I have time.

6. Why science?
I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be a scientist. I didn’t come from a family that had a science background, but my dad was quite logical. I liked the idea of studying and being able to solve problems just by working out the relationships that govern it. I enjoy being able to predict and test problems, especially with physics. I do miss that because biology is hard in the sense that you can’t perfectly describe it. Growing up, I really enjoyed the study of basic science and trying to explain the things you observe.

7. Why SickKids?
I didn’t appreciate how amazing this place was when I started here, to be honest. I lived here and there was a job opening, so I applied and got it. Now, I can’t imagine not working here. This place is incredible. If you want to find an expert in a topic, they’re here. Everyone is very accommodating and invested in moving research into clinical studies. In talking with my peers at other sites and conferences, I have come to realize that this isn’t always the case! SickKids is a unique environment; it’s right at the centre of medical research globally as Toronto has become a scientific hub.  

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
One of the questions we’re trying to answer regards pregnancy: when should you deliver the baby if there’s a potential problem? Trying to identify whether to induce labour early or not, is a difficult decision because there are downsides to a baby being born premature. You’re always trying to weigh the benefits of early delivery against those of maintaining the pregnancy. What we’re trying to address is how do you better quantify the timing of that delivery to better inform those types of questions? That can have a dramatic impact, so it’s definitely an outstanding question that is important to answer.

9. What are you reading right now?
I just finished The Night Circus. It is about magic and a circus that travels the world around the turn of the last century. I really enjoyed the mysticism around the book and its characters.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
You must love it because it’s hard work with long hours. So you better take more out of it than just the compensation. As long as you love it, it’s a great career. In addition, embracing creativity in this field is also important. I think these would be the two pieces of advice I would give to someone just starting out their career.

11. What does the SickKids Centre for Research and Learning mean to you?
You can’t believe how important this building has been. I was over at 180 Dundas St. with a collection of other scientists who are now on the same floor with me. We were sort of a core group over there, but we were so distant from the hospital and our other colleagues in the Research Institute. Even just simple meetings were laborious, especially in the winter, because you would pack up and meet together for 10 minutes and then pack back up to return to your office. You would try to schedule your day around not meeting with people as opposed to trying to meet with them, which is the opposite of what we want to do here. Now, we’re all grouped together and you see people regularly in the elevator and the kitchen. It is just so much more convenient and it’s just a pleasure to come to work here every day. Even though I’ve been here now three years, I feel like it is still fresh and I love it here.

May 2017

Scientific profile