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Biological Sciences

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Researchers in the biological sciences platform at Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) aim to understand the functions and interconnections of molecules, cells, organs and systems.

Scientists working in biological sciences use a range of experimental approaches and techniques to understand the mechanisms of healthy and diseased physiology. By understanding these mechanisms, we can improve diagnosis and prognosis; and make treatment more specific, selective and personalized, and thus more effective and safer.

Main areas of investigation include understanding how to turn genes on and off to control disease; how to shrink or kill tumors by stopping the growth of blood vessels; how to manipulate cells and proteins toward developing new drugs for a host of diseases; and how the immune system develops and functions in response to innate and external threats.

Research within biological sciences applies to numerous clinical areas, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, brain disorders, and traumatic or acute injury.

Advances in Biological Sciences

Dr. Michele Anderson’s research is on immune cells called T cells, specifically the transcriptional regulation of their development. She primarily studies the transcription factors HEBAlt and HEBCan, which can significantly affect T cell growth. Her central aim is to learn how T cells evolve at the molecular and cellular levels. She recently used CRISPR-Cas9 to uncover the significance of HEB in humans, a finding that contributes to a new basic understanding of development.

Dr. Isabelle Aubert is designing and testing novel treatments for Alzheimer's disease in preclinical models. In one project, she is developing a gene therapy to target toxic proteins called oligomers, which are a potential cause of Alzheimer’s disease. This is part of a larger effort to develop therapeutics for use with focused ultrasound, a noninvasive technology that can be used to disrupt the blood-brain barrier to enable direct delivery of drugs, genes and stem cells into the brain.

Dr. Robert Kerbel’s research into angiogenesis, the growth of new from existing blood vessels, has contributed substantially to the development of metronomic chemotherapy for cancer treatment, whereby low doses of chemotherapy are given frequently, without pause. His work on the mechanisms of such therapy has led to clinical trials worldwide, many of which his lab participates in through the creation and use of new surrogate biomarkers that help determine the best dose for antiangiogenic drugs. Kerbel’s research also explores treatment resistance in cancer and ways to overcome it.

Dr. Juan Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker is doing pioneering work in T cell development. He developed a simple way to grow functioning T cells, which are essential for healthy immunity, in the laboratory. This discovery has advanced the work of hundreds of labs. His recent projects include the study of blood cell development and how T lymphocytes, a subset of white blood cells, evolve from stem cells. Zúñiga-Pflücker’s latest discoveries include the biological mechanisms inherent to severe combined immune deficiency disorders, and the importance of Notch signalling, an evolutionary conserved pathway, which he has shown can be manipulated to induce T cell development at will.


Charmi Shah
Platform Manager, Biological Sciences