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About the Institute

Profile of Sergio Grinstein

Dr. Sergio Grinstein
Dr. Sergio Grinstein

Dr. Sergio Grinstein, PhD

  • Senior Scientist, Cell Biology
  • Professor, Biochemistry, University of Toronto
  • Pitblado Chair in Cell Biology

1. Where are you from? Where did you study?
I was born and raised in Mexico and I did all of my studies right through to my PhD in Mexico City at the Centro de Investigacion y Estudios Avanzados. My undergraduate degree is in biology and my PhD is in physiology and biophysics. I then spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow in cell biology at SickKids, followed by a year in the Department of Biochemistry at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

2. What are you researching right now?
I have two main research projects on the go. In one study, we are studying the mechanisms that the white blood cells in the immune system use to eliminate invading micro-organisms. We want to see how some micro-organisms do eventually take over and win the battle to generate disease. We study this both from the point of view of the white blood cells in the immune system and from the point of view of the micro-organism.

The other project I am working on has to do with the regulation of the intracellular pH and ion transport. We are looking at how cells control their acidity and their ion contents in the cell as a whole and in the individual compartments of the cell.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
My all-time favourite scientist is Dr. Hans Ussing. Dr. Ussing was a Danish scientist who made fantastic contributions to science and, in my opinion, was due the Nobel Prize many times, but never won. He was a wonderful and insightful scientist and a sweet person. He studied how epithelia – the thin, membranous tissues that line the internal and external surfaces the body – work. His work helped to develop our understanding of how they separate the inside of the body from the outside and how cells in the kidney, the bladder, the lungs, separate two different environments. His work led to tremendous insights into the knowledge of how our organs work and I think he deserved to be more greatly recognized.

4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
I would have to say that the biggest breakthrough in science was the realization that matter is made up of individual atoms and molecules. When this was discovered it enabled us to appreciate that everything around us is made up of defined building blocks, and to understand their combinations of permutations. It gave us major insight into how things are made and how they function.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
When I am not in the lab I enjoy swimming and playing squash when I have the chance. I also enjoy listening to music, reading and watching movies. In my free time I like to, “Eat, drink, and be merry!”

6. Why science?
I got into biology fearing that I would not be good enough at math and physics. I became interested in the biological and medical sciences, yet did not want to be a medical doctor. Halfway through my biology degree, one of my professors, who was an investigator, inspired me to take this career path.

7. Why SickKids?
I came to SickKids as a post-doctoral fellow to work for the Head of the Research Institute at the time, Dr. Aser Rothstein. He was doing cutting edge work in ion transport and I was interested learning the biochemistry of membranes from him. I spent two years here and then with his help I went to do another post-doctoral tour in Switzerland. As I was leaving I was offered a job at SickKids. This is the one and only place I have spent my career. It was my first job and my only job to date.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
There is a question around which membranes or which compartments inside the cell fuse with the vacuole that holds the micro-organisms when they are gobbled up by the white blood cells. There has been a big debate as to where this vacuole goes and what it fuses to. Some people think it goes to one compartment and others think it goes to another.

September 2009

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