Advancing Collaborative Vision

Sefton, Michael V.

Michael V. Sefton, University Professor & IBBME Director (1999-2005)

It’s not the number of honours and awards that University Professor Michael V. Sefton, Director of IBBME from 1999–2005, has won—although he has these in spades, including his induction into the Royal Society of Canada in 2005, the Killam Prize of the Canada Council of the Arts, the Founders Award from the Society for Biomaterials, the 2011 Acta Biomaterialia Gold Medal, and the R.S. Jane Memorial Award, the premier recognition of the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering, awarded this year.

What sets Sefton apart is his visionary drive to achieve the seemingly impossible.

A pioneer in the field of tissue engineering, Dr. Sefton is widely accredited as being among the first to recognize the importance of combining living cells with synthetic substances (polymers) to create artificial organs and tissues.

It was this vision that eventually led Sefton towards commercialization efforts.

Through his start-up company with Michael May, Rimon Therapeutics, Sefton helped create a paradigm shift in the field of biomaterials research with his lab’s discovery of therapeutic biomaterials. Sefton and May explored many applications for these Theramers™, whose applications included the development of new blood vessels; killing bacteria without harming human cells; healing chronic wounds; treating heart disease; delaying knee replacement; and, preventing medical device-related infections. Their premier product – the Mi-Sorb™ Dressing – entered into clinical trials, but financing issues brought that development to a halt.

The company may not have succeeded in getting their products to the marketplace, but their use of biomaterials is opening up avenues for many other discoveries.

“There has been conceptual change in the biomaterials community, [… ] [such as] the idea of regeneration-inducing biomaterials,” said Sefton.

But Sefton has never been shy at trying to advance science and have it make a lasting, real-world impact.

Sefton brought the world’s tissue engineering community together in the late-90s to work towards a tissue engineering solution to organ donation shortages. The initiative, called LIFE (Living Implants from Engineering) aimed to engineer an entire human heart within 25 years.

Closer to home, Sefton was also responsible for the creation of two local tissue engineering initiatives: the Toronto Tissue Engineering Initiative, and the Canadian Regenerative Medicine Network, geared towards facilitating collaboration among scientists, engineers and physicians to further the field of tissue engineering.

And his interest in the field began in the place he indelibly stamped as its Director: IBBME.

“[M]y interests in engineering really took off when I was in high school and I came to the University of Toronto for an open house, and saw the work that was being done at what was then the IBME,” Sefton said in a 2007 interview.

Sefton stated that, “[T]he environment for collaboration is stronger here in Canada [than the United States]. The barriers to working with clinicians are quite low here and people are happy to work together and to collaborate. There is also much more sharing of equipment and resources.”

A core faculty member of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Science as well as the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, Dr. Sefton has been a true promoter of collaborative scientific advancement, accelerating the pace of discovery in innumerable ways.

It’s a working philosophy that has not only shaped Sefton’s career path—it has shaped the history of IBBME.

It was under Sefton’s leadership that the then-Institute of Biomaterial Engineering merged with the Centre for Biomaterials in 1999, bringing the Institute into its current tri-faculty incarnation as the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering.

Today, IBBME is recognized as one of the world’s leading biomedical research and training institutes—a place where innovative vision creates high-impact research.