New Director of Lady Davis Institute aiming to boost LDI’s global prominence and impact
Dr. Stephen Robbins believes LDI can forge new directions in personalized medicine
As Dr. Stephen Robbins settles into his new position as Director of Research in the Lady Davis Institute (LDI) at the JGH, he says he is looking forward to helping the LDI “become even more prominent within the health research landscape, not only in Canada, but internationally.”
Dr. Robbins, who took over from Dr. Roderick McInnes in March, is quick to note that the LDI already enjoys considerable acclaim globally, thanks in no small part to the exceptional support of the JGH Foundation and its donors.
As well, it receives advice and guidance from an International Scientific Advisory Board whose members are among the world’s leading researchers.
However, he says, “if you look at graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who are looking to pursue their research careers, I’m not sure that the LDI is the first place they’d put at the top of their list. It’s possible that we are not quite as well known as some of the other research institutes in this country.”
What’s at stake here is not pride or ego-boosting by the LDI, Dr. Robbins explains, but a desire for the research institute to benefit from the recognition that it deserves.
Ultimately, he says, this will result in even stronger international collaboration and a more extensive cross-pollination of the ideas and insights that contribute to significant scientific breakthroughs.
Before joining the LDI, Dr. Robbins had served for more than eight years as the Calgary-based Scientific Director of the Institute of Cancer Research within the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
At the University of Calgary, where he began working in 1996, he was a Professor in the Department of Oncology and in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology.
His previous leadership roles include Director (2009-2013) and Vice-Director (2007-2008) of the Southern Alberta Cancer Research Institute, and Associate Director of Research at the Alberta Health Services Cancer Care (2010-2013).
In Montreal, Dr. Robbins has joined McGill University as a Professor in the Gerald Bronfman Department of Oncology, and as an Associate Member of McGill’s Department of Medicine. In addition, he holds the Glaxo Smith Kline Chair in Pharmacology at McGill.
In addition, he is leading a research program that focuses on pre-clinical testing for brain tumours, inflammation and metastasis.
With COVID-19 still a threat, Dr. Robbins says he is hoping to upgrade some of the LDI’s facilities to conduct further research into the virus to prepare for the next pandemic. However, he points out, the LDI researchers have already distinguished themselves in this area.
Notably, Dr. Brent Richards, a genetic epidemiologist and endocrinologist, is working with Quebec’s COVID-19 biobank, which collects, analyzes, stores and shares biological samples and data gathered from patients infected with the virus.
As well, Dr. Zeev Rosberger, a psychologist, is investigating the underlying reasons why some individuals are reluctant to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Now that the pandemic has accelerated the acceptance of telehealth (visual platforms for certain types of remote care and support), Dr. Robbins also thinks this digital tool should be examined more closely, so that providers of health care and social services can learn to make the most of it.
Looking to the future, Dr. Robbins says there is considerable potential for research in an area known as “implementation sciences,” in which a stronger push is made to broadly implement the findings that emerge from laboratory research and clinical studies.
He is also keen on making further strides in personalized medicine (also known as “precision medicine”), which seeks to custom-tailor a treatment to the specific needs of individual patients.
Although this technique is being more widely applied in cancer treatment, Dr. Robbins believes that “opportunities exist to make similar progress across the health portfolio in cardiovascular medicine, mental health and other areas. All of them can benefit from a more personalized, precision-based approach.
“Ultimately, that’s why we engage in research. As important as it is to expand our understanding of science purely for its own sake, we definitely want our work to have practical value in making people’s lives healthier and happier.
“I’m confident that with the continued support of our community, we will move forward in all of these areas, for the great benefit of all patients and their loved ones.”