Our Networked Environment

Mar 23, 2015

Dean Trevor YoungDean Trevor Young In this newsletter — and maybe elsewhere — you’ve heard me talk a lot about partnerships and their importance to the Faculty of Medicine. Whether it’s in U of T, across the Toronto Academic Health Science Network, with government — or beyond — our Faculty has to be a strong partner so we can collectively succeed.

In research, partnerships often take the form of networks that link our research teams with others. These might be initiatives like the Medical Psychiatry Alliance (MPA), which unites U of T’s Department of Psychiatry, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, The Hospital for Sick Children and Trillium Health Partners to address the challenges of combined mental and physical health.

The MPA is a great example of local leadership by bringing together experts close to home to deliver improved care in Ontario. It was also only made possible thanks to the commitment shown by a private donor, the partnering institutions and the Government of Ontario. This serves as an outstanding base to deliver new solutions, which Benoit Mulsant — as MPA’s first Executive Director — and other members of the alliance will realize. 

The networks we will be involved in may also be national in scope, such as the recently launched AGE-WELL; a pan-Canadian network that will generate high-quality research to benefit older adults. Our own Professor Alex Mihailidis serves as AGE-WELL’s Joint Scientific Director and the new network brings together 26 universities and more than 70 industry and not-for-profit organizations and has two core facilities: Toronto Rehabilitation Institute – University Health Network’s iDAPT Centre for Rehabilitation Research and Simon Fraser University’s IRMACS Centre.

Our networks are also becoming more global in reach. For example, Professor Steven Scherer is leading Autism Speaks’ Ten Thousand Genomes Program (AUT10K), which is developing the world’s largest database of genomic information on individuals with autism and their families. In cooperation with Google, an open-resource database has been created to support autism research. It allows scientists from around the world to access the largest and most comprehensive collection of genomic information on autism. This has resulted in new insights on autism, including the finding published in January that siblings with autism spectrum disorder often carry very different genetic mutations.

These networks provide important opportunities for our researchers, and I’ve only mentioned a few.

Our networks give us access to different resources, other techniques, new ideas and additional facilities. They can expand our reach and influence, while benefiting from the strengths other partners have to offer.

At the same time, we need to be strategic in selecting which networks we will join. Networks take time and resources to develop. These are two things we have in short supply. When a network can capitalize on our established strengths and further our goals, we should be enthusiastic supporters. We also have to be judicious in deciding how we will allocate our limited resources. As I have said before, a partnership has to be mutually beneficial to be successful. That is especially true of research networks. Moving forward, we’ll make sure that continues to be the case.

Trevor Young

Dean, Faculty of Medicine
Vice-Provost, Relations with Health Care Institutions


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