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Advancing World-leading Stem Cell Research In Ontario

Archived Backgrounder

Advancing World-leading Stem Cell Research In Ontario

The Ontario Research Fund-Research Infrastructure Program

Part of Ontario's Innovation Agenda, the Ontario Research Fund (ORF) is key to the province's plan to move world-class research from the lab to the global marketplace. The role of the ORF is to help ensure that Ontario researchers have the tools they need to lead the world, or lead international collaborations, in their respective fields.

Through the ORF - Research Infrastructure program, the government is investing $268 million into research infrastructure projects at Ontario universities and research hospitals. This investment will support 214 projects and more than 3,300 researchers in 14 cities, while helping to create and preserve more than 1,300 construction jobs over the next four years across the province.

Ontario's Legacy and Leadership

When it comes to stem cell research Ontario has always led the way.  Stem cells were discovered in the early 1960s by Dr. James Till and Dr. Ernest McCulloch, two scientists working at the Ontario Cancer Institute.

More recently, Ontario's Dr. Andras Nagy developed a safer way to make embryonic-like stem cells from a patient's own skin cells without the use of methods that could make the cells cancerous -- a discovery that named him to Scientific American's first ever Top 10 Honour Roll.  

Dr. Nagy's breakthrough work in stem cell research has opened the door to a new world of possibilities in conquering diseases.

To that end, Ontario is supporting stem cell research on several fronts.

Stem Cell Research In Ontario

Ontario Initiative in Personalized Stem Cell Medicine

Ontario is supporting a world-class stem cell research project to help revolutionize treatments for major health conditions like cancer, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases and traumatic injuries.

The province is investing nearly $10 million in the Ontario Initiative in Personalized Stem Cell Medicine, a project led by Dr. Janet Rossant of the University of Toronto and SickKids hospital. Dr. Rossant's team of 30 world-renowned stem cell researchers will use some of the most advanced technologies on the planet to develop cutting-edge health care products that could improve lives around the world.

In addition, the initiative will develop intellectual property and work with local and international partners to ensure timely commercialization of products in Ontario -- with spin-off companies contributing to the growth of Ontario's knowledge-based economy. 

This investment alone will help push Ontario to the edge of discovery while training 400 staff for high-paying, high value jobs over the next five years -- including 200 graduate students, 100 postdoctoral fellows, 50 clinical fellows and 50 technicians and research assistants.

Training courses, scholarship opportunities, seminars and workshops will also be developed by the initiative and made available online to the community.

This new $10-million investment is in addition to Ontario's $1-million contribution in June 2008 to kick-start this initiative.

Ontario-California Collaboration

In May 2007, Ontario announced it was investing $30 million to support the new Cancer Stem Cell Consortium. Working with colleagues at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in California, scientists in Ontario are investigating new therapies for cancer based on stem cell research. The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research is overseeing the collaboration efforts.

The collaboration will enhance opportunities to exchange technology and information and build knowledge through cross-institute training.

Stem Cell Network

Most of Canada's stem cell researchers are in Ontario, and the province is also home to Canada's Stem Cell Network. More than 100 scientists, clinicians, engineers, and social scientists with international reputations work closely together within the Stem Cell Network to bring rigor and innovation to Canadian stem cell research aimed at finding new therapies for cancer.

Through funding to the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Ontario has supported cancer stem cell researchers to the tune of $17 million.

Global Leadership Round in Genomics and Life Sciences (GL²)

In May 2009, Ontario launched a new fund to attract and retain world-leading genomics researchers in the province. 

The $100-million Global Leadership Round in Genomics & Life Sciences (GL2) promotes research excellence in Ontario by supporting internationally significant research in genomics and gene-related areas of research -- including stem cell research.

Scientists use genomics and stem cell research to better understand how diseases affect the body, and how to treat disease more effectively.  Focused on genomics and gene-related research, the new fund will aim to accelerate new knowledge that could lead to cures, better treatment and prevention for diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. It will also support innovation in agriculture, environmental protection and clean technologies.

What Are Stem Cells?

Stem cells are a special class of cells that can be grown into different types of tissues for use in medical applications.  Regenerative medicine harnesses the power of stem cells to repair, regenerate or replace diseased cells, tissues and organs.

The techniques of regenerative medicine are already in use, such as bone marrow transplants used to treat leukemia. Scientists believe that regenerative medicine will one day be used to treat other cancers and repair damage to the heart and spinal cord.

The Ontario Innovation Agenda

Ontario's support for stem cell research is part of the Ontario Innovation Agenda, the province's $3.2 billion strategy to make innovation a driving force of Ontario's economy.  By targeting investment toward areas like stem cells where Ontario already is, or is poised to become a global leader, and by building on our greatest strength -- the talent and ingenuity of our people -- Ontario is harnessing innovation to ensure our economy is one of the winning economies of the 21st century.