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Headshot of Dr. Peter Dirks.

Peter Dirks

Title: Chief, Division of Neurosurgery
Designations: MD, PhD, FRCSC
Phone: 416-813-6426
Alternate Contact Name: Sarah Carter
Alternate Phone: 416-813-6426
Alternate Email:
Alternate Fax: 416-813-4975
U of T Positions: Professor, Departments of Surgery and Molecular Genetics
Chair Positions: Harold Hoffman/Shoppers Drug Mart Chair in Paediatric Neurosurgery

Research Positions

Senior Scientist
Developmental and Stem Cell Biology

Please contact: Tracey Richards (Dirks' Project Manager):


Dr. Peter Dirks graduated from Queen's University Medical School in Kingston, Ontario in 1989. He completed his PhD in Molecular and Cellular Pathology in 1997 at the University of Toronto (U of T), and his neurosurgery training at the U of T in 1998 (Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Canada, 1998). He then completed his Paediatric Neurosurgery Fellowship training at L'hôpital Necker Enfants Malades in Paris in 1998.

In 1998, he was appointed to Neurosurgical Staff at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and U of T. He was subsequently appointed to the SickKids Research Institute's Developmental & Stem Cell Biology Program in 1999 where he established his research laboratory to study brain tumours in the Arthur and Sonia Labatt Brain Tumour Research Centre at SickKids.

In 2019, Dr. Dirks was appointed Head of the Division of Neurosurgery.


The Dirks Lab is focused on the biology of brain tumours of children and adults, with a primary aim to understand the link between stem cell biology, development, and brain tumor growth, and a secondary aim to understand brain tumour heterogeneity and how diverse cell types contribute to tumour maintenance and therapeutic resistance.

In 2004, Dr. Dirks’ laboratory was the first to prospectively identify cancer stem cells in human brain tumours, contributing to a paradigm shift in understanding solid cancer growth, and putting emphasis on consideration of stemness properties both experimentally and conceptually in the study of brain tumours.

His lab is committed to advancing the fundamental understanding of cancer in order to develop new treatment options for patients with these devastating tumours.

Efforts in the lab are currently funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), Stand Up to 2 Cancer and the EIF foundation, Genome Canada, the Ontario Centre for Cancer Research, Cancer Research UK, and the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute.

Education and experience

  • 2019–Present: Chief, Division of Neurosurgery, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario
  • 2019–Present: Harold Hoffman/Shoppers Drug Mart Chair in Paediatric Neurosurgery, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario
  • 2012–2019: Garron Family Chair in Childhood Cancer Research, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario
  • 2010–Present: Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, Graduate Studies, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario
  • 2010–Present: Senior Scientist, Developmental Biology Program, Research Institute, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario
  • 2009–Present: Professor, Surgery, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario.
  • 2004–Present: Principal Investigator, (part of Networks of Centers of Excellence of Canada), Stem Cell Network Canada
  • 1998–Present: Professor, Graduate Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario
  • 1998–Present: Staff Surgeon, Department of Surgery (Neurosurgery), The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • 1985–1989: MD, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario
  • 1997: PhD, Regulation of the Cell Cycle and Cell Phenotype in Malignant Astrocytomas. The Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario


  • 2016–Present: Chair, Paediatric Specialties Association – SickKids
  • 2017: Fellowship, Royal Society of Canada (FRSC), Canada
  • 2011: Alan R Hudson Neurosurgery Faculty Teaching Award, University of Toronto, Canada. For contribution to undergraduate and postgraduate teaching.
  • 2009: The Farber Award, AANS/CNS, United States.
    Outstanding contributions to neuro-oncology from the Tumor Section of The American Association for Neurological Surgeons/Congress of Neurological Surgeons.
  • 2008: Terry Fox Young Investigator Award, National Cancer Institute of Canada/Terry Fox Foundation, Canada.
    Awarded to a promising young investigator doing outstanding basic research.
  • 2005: Royal College Medal Award in Surgery, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada
  • 2005: George Armstrong Peters Prize, University of Toronto
    Outstanding Academic Productivity in Research.
  • 2004: Canada’s Top 40 under 40, Canada. Report on Business Magazine, Caldwell Partners.


  1. Selvandurai H, Luis E, Desai K, Kriegstein A, Taylor MD, Dirks PB. Medulloblastoma Arises from the Persistence of a Rare and Transient Sox2+ Granule Neuron Precursor. Cell Rep. 2020 Apr 14;31(2):107511
  2. MacLeod G, Bozek D, Rajakulendran N, Weiss S, Dirks P, Angers S. Genome-Wide CRISPR-Cas9 Screens Expose Genetic Vulnerabilities and Mechanisms of Temozolomide Sensitivity in Glioblastoma Stem Cells. Cell Rep. 2019 Apr 16;27(3):971-986.e9. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.03.047
  3. Rajakulendran N, Rowland K, Selvandurai H, Ahmadi M, Park N, Naumenko S, Dolma S, ward R, So M, Lee L, MacLeod G, Pasiliao C, Brandon C, Clarke I, Cusimano M, Bernstein M, Batada N, Angers S, Dirks P. Wnt and Notch signaling govern self-renewal and differentiation in a subset of human glioblastoma stem cells. Genes and Dev. Genes Dev. 2019 May 1;33(9-10):498-510. doi: 10.1101/gad.321968.118.
  4. Lan X, Jörg DJ, Cavalli FMG, Richards LM, Nguyen LV, Vanner RJ, Guilhamon P, Lee L, Kushida MM, Pellacani D, Park NI, Coutinho FJ, Whetstone H, Selvadurai HJ, Che C, Luu B, Carles A, Moksa M, Rastegar N, Head R, Dolma S, Prinos P, Cusimano MD, Das S, Bernstein M, Arrowsmith CH, Mungall AJ, Moore RA, Ma Y, Gallo M, Lupien M, Pugh TJ, Taylor MD, Hirst M, Eaves CJ, Simons BD, Dirks PB. Fate mapping of human glioblastoma reveals an invariant stem cell hierarchy. Nature. 2017 Aug 30. doi: 10.1038/nature23666
  5. Park NI, Guilhamon P, Desai K, McAdam RF, Langille E, O'Connor M, Lan X, Whetstone H, Coutinho FJ, Vanner RJ, Ling E, Prinos P, Lee L, Selvadurai H, Atwal G, Kushida M, Clarke ID, Voisin V, Cusimano MD, Bernstein M, Das S, Bader G, Arrowsmith CH, Angers S, Huang X, Lupien M, Dirks PB. ASCL1 Reorganizes Chromatin to Direct Neuronal Fate and Suppress Tumorigenicity of Glioblastoma Stem Cells. 2017 Aug 3;21(2):209-224.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.stem.2017.06.004.

Relevant pages

Go to CRISPR article

Scientists ‘reverse engineer’ brain cancer cells to find new targets for treatment

Glioblastoma is one of the most devastating forms of cancer, with few existing treatment options. Scientists have ‘reverse engineered’ brain cancer stem cells gene by gene, uncovering multiple potential targets for this hard-to-treat cancer.

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