Team London (published in London Forever Young 20th anniversary edition)
The city has a unique mix of skills and expertise in health care
that’s been making a difference for patients across the country and
around the world for the past 20 years and more
(Lawson Research Institute photo)
By Ellen Ashton-Haiste
The conception of insulin for treatment of diabetes.
The discovery of Aspirin as a preventive therapy for heart attack and stroke.
The development of 3-D ultrasound.The
world’s first closed-chest robotic-assisted beating heart coronary
bypass and the first robotic assisted surgery through remote
These are some of the most
important medical breakthroughs of the past century. All occurred in
London and many within the last two decades, as Today’s Seniors/Forever
Young has chronicled the successes.
ranks as one of the top medical sites in the country, particularly in
specific areas, says David Hill, scientific director at Lawson Health
Research Institute and vice-president of research at both London Health
Sciences Centre (LHSC) and St. Joseph’s Health Care London.
In the areas of rehabilitation and aging research and, certainly, in
the areas of minimally invasive and computer-assisted surgery, the city
is among the top three Canadian sites, he says. And in diagnostic
imaging, London is “probably Number One in Canada.” (The country’s
first MRI was done at St. Joseph’s Hospital in the 1980s.)
“I think London’s advantage is that we have a huge range of expertise,”
Hill says. “We have strengths in surgery; we have strengths in clinical
trials and pharmaceuticals; we have great strengths in imaging. “But
what really makes London special is our ability to mix those skills
together to find very innovative solutions to health problems. We get a
lot of cross-fertilization of thought and come up with very innovative
solutions by combining different types of skills together.”
An example of this is the work being done in robotics and minimally
invasive surgery at Canadian Surgical Technologies and Advanced
Robotics (CSTAR), combining efforts of researchers, engineers and
surgery clinicians from the University of Western Ontario, LHSC, Lawson
Health Research and St. Joseph’s.
“There are very
few facilities like CSTAR, where you’ll find this level of
collaboration,” Rajni Patel, UWO professor and CSTAR director of
engineering, said in a recent Western News article.
Another is an innovative research team conceived by ophthalmologist and
researcher Dr. Cindy Hutnik at the Ivey Eye Institute. It brings
together three very different disciplines — medical research, biology
and engineering — personified by Hutnik, biologist Kathleen Hill and
engineering professor Tim Newson, to look at eye diseases such as
glaucoma and macular degeneration.
This kind of
collaborative effort has been facilitated by significant changes to the
landscape of hospital and healthcare services in the city over the past
20 years, says Dave Crockett, integrated vice-president of facilities
management for LHSC and St. Joseph’s Health Care, two entities formed
from what, at that time, was “six hospitals with five CEOs and five
In those days, he says, there was “intense
competition because of pressures between people and dollars.” In the
five years from about 1993 to 1998, which Crockett describes as “period
of creative reconciliation,” strong partnerships began to form with
early moves to integrate the hospitals and delineate their roles so
that services were not overlapping and each hospital site brought to
the table specific areas of expertise. Today, under one CEO, Cliff
Nordal, LHCS provides acute care services and St. Joseph’s offers
ambulatory (outpatient) care, low-risk obstetrics, rehabilitation and
veterans care — with Parkwood Hospital under its umbrella, mental
health services — having absorbed the regional mental health facilities
in London and St. Thomas, and long-term and complex care of the elderly
at Mount Hope Centre which incorporates the former St. Mary’s and
What hasn’t changed over the years, says
Crockett, is “our staffs’ passion to provide great health care and our
innovation through research and best practices. That’s been evident
through the whole past 20 years and will carry on.”
Those efforts have yielded groundbreaking work, particularly by two
research entities: Lawson Research and the Robarts Research Institute
Robarts’ first scientific director, Dr. Henry
Barnett, is known for his discovery that Aspirin is a preventative
therapy for heart attack and stroke, one of the important developments
in 20th-century medicine.
More recently, Robarts
imaging scientist Dr. Robert Bartha and his team found they could
detect Alzheimer disease using brain scans, a discovery that could lead
to earlier detection and treatment.
Other major findings at this institute include: • the development of 3-D ultrasound and its application to brachytherapy treatment for prostate cancer and breast cancer biopsy; • discovering that transplanted stem cells can induce pancreatic tissue to repair itself, reversing symptoms of diabetes; •
identifying more than 80 genetic mutations related to cholesterol,
diabetes, and heart disease, offering potential new targets for
At Lawson, some of the work has important application to the Forever Young demographic, says Hill.
A centre looking at rehabilitation in geriatric care, established at
Parkwood Hospital, has brought together many aspects of research
relating to healthy aging, he says.
“It’s a unit that’s
really dedicated to the needs of an aging population. There are about
56 scientists either based at our facility or who make use of that
facility. So, it’s very much a centre for people all around London who
have an interest in medicine and the elderly.”
program includes developing rehabilitation therapies to get people back
to an active life as quickly as possible after hip or knee
replacements. And it has an emphasis on prevention of chronic disease.
“At the end of the day, it’s chronic diseases that will affect most of
us in later life,” Hill says. “It’s cardiovascular disease or diabetes
or arthritis or cancer — and in these days we consider cancer to be a
chronic disease in that in most people it can be caught early and
resolved with surgery or chemotherapy. So there’s a lot of research
here to gain a healthy lifestyle and innovative use of new drugs to
control chronic disease and prevent complications.”
There’s also research being done on pain therapies and using the wealth
of new understanding of genetics that’s evolved over the past couple of
decades to develop therapies tailored to the individual, Hill adds. It’s an exciting time for medicine in London, says Crockett.
“As most of us, baby boomers, hit the next phase (of life), I’m excited
that we’re in a good position to meet our generation’s needs. We all
benefit from less invasive procedures and more ambulatory care. There’s
an expectation for services and discretion and options and we’re now
training the nurses and doctors to dialogue more, explain options and
participate in health decision-making.
“We have great
support from the community … and we have great people in our facilities
who, every day, do the best they can for patients and have the
wonderful talent and skill we need now and into the future.”