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About the Institute

Profile of Greg Fairn

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Dr. Greg Fairn

Dr. Greg Fairn, PhD

  • Post-doctoral Fellow, Cell Biology

1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I am originally from Annapolis Royal, a small town in Nova Scotia. I did my undergraduate studies and my PhD at Dalhousie University in Halifax in biochemistry and molecular biology. After that, I was interviewing and looking for post-doctoral fellowship positions in the United States. During that time, I came to Toronto to attend a friend’s wedding and decided to stop by SickKids and talk to Dr. Sergio Grinstein. Of all the places I’d looked, SickKids seemed like by far the best fit for me. It is all a bit serendipitous, really.

2. What are you researching right now?
The two things that I work on primarily are how cells produce and balance their fat metabolism and how white blood cells engulf and destroy pathogens.

My current project, concerns the immune system, and involves studying how the white blood cells regulate and produce superoxide – a powerful oxidant, responsible for a lot of killing of bacteria and of fungal pathogens.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
Drs. Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein, who work together at the University of Texas, both MDs, have done a lot of work over the years studying cholesterol and its metabolism and the ways it is taken up from the circulation. They won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1985.

Brown and Goldstein have been working together for a long time to understand the regulation that goes into cholesterol uptake and metabolism and how it contributes to disease. Their work as physicians, seeing different genetic disorders in their patients, really gave them a lot of clues toward their research direction.

4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
My answer to this question has two parts. There was the realization that the atom is the building block of all materials by John Dalton and then the development and the filling in of the periodic table. It was very important to realize that the atom makes everything and realizing what all the atoms actually are.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab
I play a lot of ultimate frisbee and I enjoy taking part in and watching a lot of sports. My favourite sport to watch is American Football. I also enjoy taking advantage of all the great food and restaurants in Toronto.

6. Why science?
For me, even at a young age, when I was in elementary school, I really enjoyed math and sciences. With time, my interests started moving more toward biological studies as opposed to physics and chemistry, which I was more interested in initially.

7. Why SickKids?
Initially, I came to SickKids to work with Dr. Sergio Grinstein, my supervisor. Then I discovered the Research Institute and the facilities here that make it an excellent place to train.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
The membrane that surrounds cells is thought to be quite heterogeneous in nature. One type of proposed structure in the membrane is referred to as a lipid raft. The rafts are proposed to be important for the cells of the immune system. However, there is no consensus on the size of lipid rafts, the length of their existence or even if they truly exist.

9. What are you reading right now?
Besides reading a lot of scientific papers, I typically read the newspaper, The Economist and various sports magazines like Sports Illustrated.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
These days, several aspects of the job have become more challenging. It can take a lot of time and effort. You really have to love it and be committed 100 per cent. Otherwise, I would say it isn’t for you.

11. What does The Research & Learning Tower mean to you?
As a trainee, I probably won’t still be at SickKids when The Tower opens. That being said, throughout my time here I have had the opportunity to collaborate with others within SickKids. Having everyone in one building will make things a lot better for some of the collaborations and cross-disciplinary efforts. Besides that, this Tower is a symbol that, in addition to patient care, SickKids is committed to research that has the potential to improve existing treatments or find new ones. Building a new building, especially one of this size, really shows the effort and commitment of a lot of people at SickKids to keep the Research Institute going strong.

November 2011