Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin beams as he and Dean Cathy Whiteside display the U of T Faculty of Medicine's gift of medical scrubs bearing his iconic No. 13. (Photo by Dave Chan)

Mats Sundin establishes medical fellowships at U of T, Karolinska Institutet

Former Maple Leafs captain supports developmental health research

Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin announced today he will establish an elite scientific exchange program in the field of developmental health between the University of Toronto and Karolinska Insitutet in Stockholm, Sweden.

Sundin’s gift – one-third of $1 million dollars – was announced today at a press conference at U of T. The gift will support two fellowships at world-renowned labs in Toronto and Stockholm where scientists are probing how maternal health and our earliest life experiences can determine sickness, health, learning ability and overall well-being down the road.

“We all want our children to grow up healthy, with the best opportunities to learn and live free of disease, but how do we make that possible? What can we do to give our kids the best shot at reaching their full potential?” said Sundin. “By establishing this program at U of T and KI, we’re creating an Olympic training camp for our brightest young minds to work with global leaders and answer these challenging questions.”

“Every player knows we have a responsibility to pass on our skills and knowledge to the next generation – that’s how the sport moves forward, and science as well,” Sundin added. “It means so much to me to be able to support these two great universities and their incredible drive to find the breakthroughs that can change our lives.”

Historically, genetics were thought to be the sole factor in determining whether a child would grow up to be a healthy, well-functioning adult. Now, scientists are realizing that the interaction between genes and the environment is critical. Teams at U of T and KI are leading the global charge to figure out what environmental factors – from breast-feeding to stress to nutrition – might impact the way a person’s genes are expressed, effectively determining their well-being from the early years to later on in life.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that the early environment of the fetus and infant can have major influences on susceptibility to developing cardiovascular, metabolic and mental health disorders in later life, not to mention on learning and social functioning,” said Dr. Stephen Matthews, professor of  physiology, obstetrics and gynecology and medicine at U of T. “These elite research fellows will help us advance our understanding of this complex relationship and assist in our efforts to build trajectories towards health and away from disease.”

The Mats Sundin Award in Medicine will establish two post-doctoral fellowships in developmental biology – one at U of T and one at KI. The fellows will be chosen from a highly-competitive pool of researchers at each institution, and starting in September 2012, they will travel to their partner institution for a year of research under the direction of world-leading scientists in the field. At U of T, Matthews and Dr. Stephen Lye, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and physiology, will lead the program. Dr. Ola Hermanson, associate professor in molecular neurodevelopment, will lead the program at KI.

“Research that is happening right now at U of T and Karolinska Institutet is resulting in unprecedented opportunities to pre-empt, regulate and even eradicate some of the world’s most common illnesses,” said U of T president David Naylor. “By establishing these fellowships, Mats Sundin is helping us mobilize the power of our respective research towards areas that intrinsically shape the human condition.”

“Karolinska Institutet is very proud to receive this gift. It is our clear goal to promote interactions like this and make the future even brighter for true young ambitious talents in science,” said KI President Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson. “The support from Mats Sundin is a great step to improve the already fruitful collaboration between KI and U of T.”

The fellowships build on a long and successful exchange program between U of T and Karolinska Institutet dating back to 1996. The exchange program leverages the very best research themes from both institutions to train and develop students into future scientific and medical leaders, with a particular focus on maternal-infant health, neurodevelopment and regenerative medicine.


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