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Cell Biology

Collage of nine images showing cells.

We aim to understand how cells function at the molecular level, and how these functions go awry in disease states. 

Researchers in the Cell Biology program use cutting-edge methods in cell and molecular biology, biochemistry, and microscopy, combined with proteomics, combinatorial chemistry and high-throughput robotics. Our research examines cell physiology, inter and intracellular signaling, cell structure, and organelle function, on both a cellular and molecular level.  We use cell models both in culture and in vivo to model disease states and define normal mechanisms.

Cell Biology Program Infographic

Research team

Led by Dr. John Brumell and a group of 25 Faculty, the Cell Biology Program is supported by over 250 graduate students, research fellows, research associates, technicians and administrative staff. Our scientists have clinical appointments in the Departments of Anaesthesia, Paediatrics, Paediatric Laboratory Medicine, and Surgery. They also hold academic appointments at the University of Toronto in Biochemistry, the Institute of Medical Science, Immunology, Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, Medical Biophysics, Molecular Genetics, and Physiology.

The balanced strength and diverse expertise of our staff allows for trans-disciplinary research and collaboration, enabling opportunities for exciting translational and transformational discoveries that will improve the health of children worldwide.

Aleixo Muise

Senior Scientist, Cell Biology
aleixo.muise@sickkids.ca

Amira Klip

Senior Scientist, Cell Biology
amira@sickkids.ca

Annie Huang

Associate Chair of Research, Department of Paediatrics

Blayne Sayed

Staff Surgeon, Division of General & Thoracic Surgery

Christoph Licht

Staff Nephrologist, Division of Nephrology
christoph.licht@sickkids.ca

Cynthia Hawkins

Neuropathologist, Department of Paediatric Laboratory Medicine
Cynthia.hawkins@sickkids.ca

Daniela Rotin

Senior Scientist, Cell Biology
drotin@sickkids.ca

Headshot of Dilan Dissanayake

Dilan Dissanayake

Staff Rheumatologist, Division of Rheumatology
dilan.dissanayake@sickkids.ca

James Rutka

Neurosurgeon, Division of Neurosurgery
james.rutka@sickkids.ca

Jane McGlade

Senior Scientist, Cell Biology
jmcglade@sickkids.ca

John Brumell

Co-Director, Inflammatory Bowel Disease Centre
John.Brumell@sickkids.ca

Jonathon Ditlev

Scientist, Molecular Medicine
jonathon.ditlev@sickkids.ca

Awards and achievements

Cell Biology investigators currently hold six Canada Research Chairs (four Tier 1 and two Tier 2), three Endowed Chairs at SickKids and one Endowed Chair at the University of Toronto.

Canada Research Chairs

Tier 1
  • Annie Huang
  • Aleixo Muise
  • Lisa Robinson
  • Philip Sherman
Tier 2
  • Spencer Freeman
  • Ran Kafri

Learn more about SickKids Canada Research Chairs

SickKids Endowed Chairs

  • John Brumell: Pitblado Chair in Cell Biology
  • Cynthia Hawkins: Garron Family Chair in Childhood Cancer Research
  • Rae Yeung: Hak-Ming and Deborah Chiu Chair in Paediatric Translational Research

University of Toronto Endowed Chairs

  • Meredith Irwin: Chair of Paediatrics
  • James Rutka: R.S. McLaughlin Chair, Department of Surgery

Learn more about SickKids and U of T Endowed Chairs

  • Julie Brill: Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Neil Goldenberg: Inaugural recipient of the John Alchin and Hal Marryatt Early Career Professorship in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, University of Toronto
  • Sergio Grinstein: Fellow, Royal Society of Canada
  • Meredith Irwin: Fellow, Canadian Academy of Health Sciences
  • Amira Klip: Fellow, Royal Society of Canada
  • Lisa Robinson: Fellow, Canadian Academy of Health Sciences
  • James Rutka: Officer of the Order of Canada; Order of Ontario; Fellow, Royal Society of Canada
  • Philip Sherman: Fellow of the North American Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition
  • William Trimble: Fellow, Royal Society of Canada

Research themes

Cell-cell and cell-pathogen interactions (Cell-Cell/Cell-Host)

This research involves the study of how cells are affected by contact from outside their world. This involves studies of the interactions between cells in the context of a tissue, and the ways that microbial pathogens manipulate cells to establish an advantageous growth niche.

Figure legend: Listeria monocytogenes (green) is a bacterial pathogen that can grow within cells of their host, including macrophages (blue). They also have the remarkable ability to polymerize host cell actin (red) to propel them into neighbouring cells, allowing them to spread within our tissues. (Brumell lab)

Immune cell function and dysfunction (Immunity)

Research in the program examines immune cells of both innate and adaptive immune systems. Studies focus both on how immune cells function normally to battle infection, and how on rare occasion these cells can turn against their host.

Figure legend: Canonical inflammasome pathways are activated by endogenous or exogenous cellular stress. Following inflammasome assembly, a variety of mediators are released to propagate the innate immune response. (Goldenberg lab)

Fundamental cellular processes and their contribution to disease (Membrane traffic)

Research in this area includes the study of membrane traffic, organelle function and organelle turnover within the cell, and how defects in these processes can lead to diseases such as diabetes cancer, cystic fibrosis and hypertension.

Figure legend: Swelling of tissue organoid from a mouse ileum before (red) and after (green) activation of Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Regulator (CFTR), whose gene is mutated in Cystic Fibrosis. A cross-section of ileal organoid obtained by high content 3D microscope (IXMC) is shown. (Rotin lab)

Spatial and temporal control of cell signaling in health and disease (Signaling)

Cells continually receive stimuli from external sources and must assimilate this information to decide whether to replicate, migrate, secrete hormones etc. Studies in the program are investigating how this signaling occurs, how it is controlled, and what happens if it fails to occur correctly. 

Figure legend: Dual IF labeling of iALP and beta-catenin antibodies on paraffin section of normal human duotenum. (Muise lab)

Regulation of cell growth and defects leading to cancer(Cell Death/Cancer)

Cell proliferation is balanced by cell death, and failure to maintain this balance can lead either to uncontrolled proliferation in the form of cancer, or loss of cells in the cases of ischemia or bone marrow failures. Research in the program aims to understand the mechanisms that control the cell’s decision to proliferate or die and determine how this balance goes awry in disease states.

Figure legend: Mouse mammary epithelial derived "mammosphere" where multiple oncogenic events have been combined to study emergence of the cancer phenotype ex vivo. This mammosphere is stained with antibodies against luminal (cytokeratin 8) and basal (cytokeratin 14) epithelial cell markers. Nuclei are DAPI stained. (Egan lab)


Cell Biology Seminars

Cell Biology Seminars are held virtually via Zoom every Friday from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. unless otherwise specified.

Our seminars bring together faculty members and trainees from SickKids and the broader Toronto research community. These talks showcase a wide range of topics and an impressive line-up of both international and local speakers throughout the academic year. All are welcome to attend!

  1. Using artificial intelligence to find drugs amenable to repurposing for Parkinson’s disease

    September 30: Naomi Visanji, PhD Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, U of T, and Connie Marras, MD, PhD Department of Neurology, U of T

Cell Biology Labs

Latest news

September 8, 2022

SickKids clinicians and researchers receive prestigious national honours

Five SickKids clinicians and researchers receive highly prestigious academic honours for their significant contributions to Canadian health sciences and paediatric medicine.

Go to article

July 21, 2022

SickKids researchers awarded CIHR Project Grants worth more than $15.5 million

Over 20 SickKids researchers were awarded more than $15.5 million in funding through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Project Grants: Spring 2022 competition.

Six staff headshots grouped together in one image.

June 6, 2022

Six SickKids researchers among latest new and renewed Canada Research Chairs

Six scientists at SickKids Research Institute were awarded new or renewed Tier 1 and Tier 2 Canada Research Chairs through the University of Toronto.


Core facilities & Centres

Our team members work across a number of SickKids core facilities and centres to conduct their research. They contribute to studies involving inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), brain tumours, cancer, childhood arthritis and rheumatic disease, cystic fibrosis, and several other paediatric conditions.

SickKids Imaging Facility

The Imaging Facility provides a full range of biological imaging solutions for life sciences research. The facility contains a wide array of the latest technologies in biological imaging, which are available to all researchers on a user-cost basis.

SickKids Proteomics Analytics Robotics & Chemical Biology Centre (SPARC BioCentre)

The SickKids SPARC Biocentre provides two in-demand services for cell biology researchers at SickKids and around the world - drug discovery and molecular analysis.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Centre

The IBD Centre brings together the strengths of SickKids’ IBD Program and Research Institute to build our understanding of the development of paediatric IBD, leading to better clinical care for individual patients.

The Arthur and Sonia Labatt Brain Tumour Research Centre

The Arthur and Sonia Labatt Brain Tumour Research Centre (BTRC) is the largest comprehensive brain tumour research program in Canada, and a global leader in paediatric brain tumour research and therapy.

hospital building and core facilities icon

Core Facilities

Core Facilities

Work in state-of-the-art facilities and leverage the latest technology, overseen by our highly qualified scientific directors from the Research Institute.

The Research Institute

The Research Institute

Over 2,000 researchers and staff collaborate at SickKids’ Research Institute (RI) to tackle the toughest challenges in child’s health.

Contact Cell Biology

Sheryl Mann, Program Manager
686 Bay St, Toronto, ON M5G 0A4
416-813-8499


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