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Richard Weisel

Professor of Cardiac Surgery, University of Toronto
Senior Scientist, Toronto General Hospital Research Institute
Faculty Member, IMS

Years Active in the IMS: 1981 - Present

My father was a cardiac surgeon, so I knew early what I wanted to do. I went to Boston to train in General Surgery and prepare for an academic career. My research years were funded by an institutional NIH grant to develop academic surgeons. In our laboratory were Steve Strasberg and Jameel Ali both of whom I would later join in Toronto. My research focused on the assessment of cardiac function in the intensive care unit and resulted in a New England Journal of Medicine publication.

After completing my training in cardiothoracic and vascular surgery in Toronto in 1978, I established a peer reviewed research program to develop improved methods of protecting the heart from injury during heart surgery. The program required the collaboration of dedicated clinicians and scientists in biochemistry, imaging and physiology. I was fortunate to develop a partnership with Don Mickle in clinical biochemistry. One of his students, Ren-Ke Li, subsequently became my partner in research, and has become a Professor of Cardiac Surgery and the mentor for all of our surgical scientists. His interest in regenerative medicine has dramatically expanded our research interests and our current clinical trials.

I was able to recruit residents who were interested in a career in academic cardiac surgery to participate in these studies. What was missing, however, was a dedicated training plan for each resident. We decided that enrollment in the IMS would best fill this need. The rigor required to obtain an advanced degree was essential for the clinicians to receive adequate scientific training. The students’ Program Advisory Committees consisted of clinicians and scientists who established realistic goals for their program. The residents also took courses and became experts in important disciplines including statistics.

With the support of Bernie Langer, Steve Strasberg established the Surgeon Scientist Training Program to provide continued funding for the residents to focus on research. The program has expanded and now includes trainees from all Divisions of the Department of Surgery. Professor Langer and I joined the research committee of the Royal College and used these principles to establish the Clinician Investigator Program that has been so successful.

The IMS was an essential component of the development of a generation of Cardiac Surgical Scientists. We greatly appreciate the support provided by the IMS for the development of the academic careers of these cardiac surgeons. We could not have achieved our current stature without that assistance.