How Big Gifts Let Us See the Micro Scale

Oct 7, 2020

Dean Trevor YoungDean Trevor Young We are often called upon to stop and look at the big picture. But today, I want to talk about seeing at a much smaller level.

On September 24, we announced the transformational gift by James and Louise Temerty and the Temerty Foundation to our Faculty. Their gift of $250 million was the largest single donation in Canadian history, and generations of our researchers and learners will benefit from their generosity. It will provide many of the resources required for us to realize the bold vision articulated in our Academic Strategic Plan. It will touch upon almost every aspect our Faculty.

The scope and scale of this gift is truly vast, so to illustrate its impact, I want to talk to you about a microscope. 

This isn’t just any microscope. I am speaking about a cryogenic electron microscopy — known as cryo-EM — which has the ability to capture images of biomolecular structures at near-atomic resolution. The technology behind cryo-EM garnered the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2017 and Nature Methods named it the "Method of the Year" in 2016. Its use in structural biology research — a field in which we excel — has been essential.

There are three types of cryo-EMs … think small, medium and large. On campus, we currently have a small cryo-EM: the Talos transmission electron microscope. Its installation within the Microscopy Imaging Laboratory — a core research facility in our Faculty — has been transformational, and it has been in very high demand since it arrived in 2018. It fuels our research activities, but also provides high-value training to our graduate students, which increases their skillset upon graduation. 

U of T is also a partner in the Toronto High Resolution High Throughput cryo-EM facility. Based at The Hospital for Sick Children under the direction of Professor John Rubinstein, it is home to a large cryo-EM: the Titan Krios Cryo Transmission Electron Microscope. Working with some of our affiliated institutions — SickKids, University Health Network and Sinai Health — we obtained support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Research Fund to finance this equipment. It has elevated our work and furthered our high-impact research. 

What we currently lack in our campus-based imaging infrastructure is a medium cryo-EM. There are some questions that can’t be answered by a small cryo-EM, but that also don’t need the power of the large one. And, because the Titan cryo-EM is such a complex machine, we first need to ensure samples are screened and prepared on campus to ensure it’s used with the greatest impact. 

Adding a medium cryo-EM will be the bridge we need between our existing equipment. It illustrates the power of collaboration across the Toronto Academic Health Science Network. It also optimizes the use of our current infrastructure, while ensuring we provide both the scale and access to equipment expected by the next generation of researchers. To be a world-class home to medical researchers, we must have world-class equipment. This is a major step to ensure we reach our goal of greater excellence here in the Faculty. 

Thanks to the Temerty family’s donation, we are able to purchase the cryo-EM we desperately need. This will ensure we can provide more timely access to high-resolution imaging equipment. It will benefit our current researchers and is a key to our future.

This is but one example of the impact the Temerty family’s gift will have on our Faculty. Yes, it will provide us with powerful imaging equipment, but also new scholarships, new space, new support for learning and additional support for research. Each of these investments on their own will be transformational; together, they’re revolutionary. I have heard from members of our community about how excited they are by the possibility this gift unlocks. We now have the opportunity to realize our promise and make it a reality. 

Trevor Young
Dean, Temerty Faculty of Medicine
Vice Provost, Relations with Health Care Institutions 

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