Building Up the Next Generation of Scientists

The key to scientific discovery is curiosity, and the Amgen Scholars Program gives young minds the chance to push theirs to the limit.

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“The most essential ingredient that we have as scientists is curiosity. Science isn’t rote learning, but science is about trying to uncover something that no one’s uncovered before, questioning dogma, so bringing the curiosity of research into the classroom is something I love to do.”

Molly Shoichet, university professor at the University of Toronto, is an enthusiastic mentor to young scientists. She welcomes undergraduate students to her lab every summer, including Amgen scholar Allysia Chin. That firsthand practical experience enhances the knowledge that students gain during their degrees.

Getting to work on big problems alongside some of Toronto’s biggest names in biomedical research makes the Amgen Scholars Canada Program an exciting and sought after opportunity.

“We work in the field of regenerative medicine and also in cancer,” adds Shoichet.

“We design materials to promote cell survival after transplantation into the brain or the retina, the back of the eye, and we also design these really cool materials that mimic the way cancer cells grow natively in us, and we make those materials to grow in the lab.”

The researchers in Shoichet’s lab include undergraduate students, graduate students, technicians, and postdoctoral fellows. It’s a highly interdisciplinary group, and watching them grow is one of Shoichet’s favourite parts of the job.

“It’s really a great opportunity for me to see that next generation of scientists, work with them, help them develop their own creativity, their own independent thinking,” says Shoichet. “It’s what I love to do every day.”

Investing in young minds is an investment in the future of science. These are the opportunities that start here and continue to grow in directions we can’t even imagine.

“How do we restore vision? How do we overcome brain cancer? These are really big problems that we’re trying to work on. But you can’t invent the future without the tools, and without the experience,” says Shoichet.

“What’s so exciting is to come into the lab and try it out, see what you can do, see how you can invent the future. That’s what’s so exciting, and that’s why I love programs like the Amgen Scholars Program because it gives people that opportunity.”

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Molly Shoichet is an expert in the study of polymers for drug delivery and tissue regeneration. She holds the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Tissue Engineering and is Professor of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry and Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto. Professor Shoichet was recruited to the faculty at the University of Toronto in 1995 with a NSERC University Faculty Award, after completing her S.B. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Chemistry, 1987), her PhD from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (Polymer Science & Engineering, 1992), and three years at CytoTherapeutics Inc.

Shoichet was promoted to Full Professor in 2004, after being named one of Canada’s Top 40 under 40 (2002), and receiving CIFAR’s Young Explorer’s Award (to the top 20 scientists under 40 in Canada, 2002) and NSERC’s Steacie Research Fellowship (2003-2005). In 2014, she was appointed University Professor in recognition of her dedication to the advancement of knowledge and the University’s academic mission, and her excellence as a teacher, mentor and researcher. This is the University of Toronto’s highest distinction, and is held by less than 2% of the faculty. In 2015, Shoichet was the North American Laureate for the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science and in 2016, she was named foreign member of the US National Academy of Engineering. In 2017, Shoichet won the Killam Prize in Engineering, the most important engineering prize in Canada. In 2018, Shoichet was appointed Chief Scientist, Ontario and inducted as an Officer of the Order of Canada – one of the highest distinctions for a Canadian.

Shoichet aims to advance the basic science and enabling technologies of tissue engineering and drug delivery. She is a world leader in the areas of polymer synthesis, biomaterials design and drug delivery in the nervous system. Her research program is unique in its breadth, focusing on strategies to promote tissue repair after traumatic spinal cord injury, stroke and blindness and enhance both tumour targeting through innovative strategies and drug screening via 3D cell culture with new hydrogel design strategies.

She has published over 575 papers, patents and abstracts, has given over 350 lectures worldwide and has trained over 185 scientists in the past 22 years. Her students are pursuing careers in academia, industry and government. She founded three spin-off companies and is actively engaged in translational research with several industry partners and in science outreach. In 2015, Shoichet launched a national social media initiative, Research2Reality, aimed at engaging the public in the importance of research. She served as an inaugural member on the Science, Technology & Innovation Council, providing strategic guidance to the Prime Minister of Canada (for 6 years), the Ontario Research & Innovation Council (for 2 years) and the Board of the Ontario Centres of Excellence (for 6 years). She is currently Senior Advisor on Science & Engineering Engagement at U of T and serves on the Board of the Ontario Science Centre.

Shoichet is the recipient of 44 prestigious national and international awards. She is the only person ever to be inducted into all three of Canada’s National Academies: the Canadian Academy of Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. Moreover, she is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and recipient of the Clemson Award from the American Society for Biomaterials, the Senior Scientist Award from the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society, Americas, and the Killam Research Fellowship from the Canada Council for the Arts, among many others. In 2011, Shoichet was appointed to the Order of Ontario, Ontario’s highest civilian honour. In 2013, her contributions to Canada’s innovation agenda and the advancement of knowledge were recognized with the QEII Diamond Jubilee Award.

Research2Reality is a groundbreaking initiative that shines a spotlight on world-class scientists engaged in innovative and leading edge research in Canada. Our video series is continually updated to celebrate the success of researchers who are establishing the new frontiers of science and to share the impact of their discoveries with the public.