Dr. Thomas Waddell

Dr. Thomas Waddell

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Dr. Thomas Waddell
Head, Division of Thoracic Surgery, UHN
Thomson Family Chair in Translational Research
Professor and Pearson-Ginsberg Chair, Division of Thoracic Surgery
Senior Scientist, Toronto General Research Institute and
McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine
Professor and Chair, Division of Thoracic Surgery, University of Toronto

By: Brenda Varriano and Frank Pang
Photo by: Mikaeel Valli

An organ critical for survival is the lungs—giving us the breath of life. Historically, lung disease meant death. Today, the availability of organ transplantation provides a new hope for life. However, organ transplantation remains complicated, with success relying on a multitude of factors, including availability and acceptance of donor lungs in a recipient. At frontier in the field of lung transplantation is Dr. Tom Waddell, a clinician-scientist whose research interests lie in improving lung transplantation and regenerative medicine. With appointments in the Institute of Medical Science, Toronto General Hospital and McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, his accomplishments are vast. Some of his achievements include, but are not limited to, the Blalock Scholarship from the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, the CIHR New investigator Award, a CFI New Opportunities Fund Award, the George Armstrong Peters Prize, and the Lister Award in 2011 for his international recognition in the field of plastic surgery. IMS Magazine had the privilege to interview Dr. Waddell, who discussed the challenges in the field of lung transplantation and advice for students and other upcoming researchers.

In Dr. Waddell’s opinion, a major challenge in lung transplantation is to find safe and reliable methods to induce patient tolerance, or bodily acceptance, of a donor organ. Tolerance and compatibility prevent triggering the immune response which would normally lead to graft rejection. There are two schools of thought which aim to tackle is issue of patient tolerance for organ donors. The newer school focuses on ideas of regenerative medicine. These include growing a recipient’s own cells in vitro before reintroducing them, and establishing a universal cell source for all patients. Success of both ideas rely on the principle of tolerance of a patient towards his or her own cells. The second, older school of thought, aims to find methods to alter a recipient’s tolerance to grafts without immunosuppression. Despite the differences in these approaches, there are still common challenges, including a lack of knowledge concerning immune signalling pathways and the resistance of the healthcare system when integrating new technologies into clinical practice.

While some clinical trials have already looked as modulating patients’ tolerance for organ transplantation, the translation from bench-to-beside still has a long way to go. To explain the issue with integrating new technologies and treatments into the healthcare system, Dr. Waddell made an analogy with  the transition from steam to electric power in wool factories. The output (production of wool) did not immediately increase after this change, because the machines did not differ in their output, but in the methods to do so. Therefore, in order to successfully introduce technology in medicine, the output must be different and improve on what has already been done and shown to be most effective in mitigating patient care. What can scientists create that will enable physicians to do what has never been done before? To overcome this challenge, there is a need to improve collaboration and coordination between basic and clinical scientists. Typically, basic science moves at a much quicker pace when compared to clinical science. This creates a gap between current knowledge in the respective fields. To manage this gap, Dr. Waddell emphasizes on the importance of idea sharing between basic and clinician scientists on a regular basis. A supportive environment where ideas can be shared and critiqued freely is necessary. Overall, these changes will greatly benefit healthcare and patient care as a whole.

The focus on translational research has stuck with Dr. Waddell since his time as an IMS student. He also hasn’t forgotten what it was like to be a graduate student, offering advice for young aspiring scientists. While having an end goal is important, Dr. Waddell emphasized that students should keep their mind open and enjoy the process. Furthermore, he noted the importance of having strong mentor-mentee relationships not only to gain scientific knowledge, but also to broaden their philosophical views on life. Without a doubt Dr. Waddell is the epitome of research and surgical advances in the field of lung transplant. With his advice and views, we hope that students leave inspired and eager to tackle the field of me