Duncan Stewart - President and Scientific Director

Duncan is a pioneering Canadian cardiovascular researcher who is recognized for his many important discoveries in blood vessel biology, as well as his dedication to translating these discoveries into benefits for patients and society. After beginning his career in academic cardiology at McGill University in Montreal, he moved to Toronto as Head of Cardiology at St. Michael’s Hospital and later became Director of the Division of Cardiology and Executive Director of the McLaughlin Centre for Molecular Medicine at the University of Toronto. He was recruited to lead the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in 2007.


Duncan has made a number of seminal discoveries elucidating the importance of endothelial factors in health and disease, notably the role of the nitric oxide system in angiogenesis and of endothelin-1 in pulmonary hypertension.


Duncan is also a leader in developing cell and gene based therapies for cardiovascular disease. He led the first Canadian clinical trial to test an angiogenic gene therapy – using VEGF to try to stimulate heart repair in people who had suffered heart attacks. He also led the world’s first clinical trial of a gene-enhanced cell therapy for pulmonary hypertension, using endothelial progenitor cells engineered to over-express the endothelial nitric oxide synthase. He also leads the world’s first clinical trial of a similar therapy for post heart-attack repair, and he has played a key role in initiating the world’s first trial of mesenchymal stem cells for the treatment of septic shock.


Duncan has published more than 200 peer-reviewed manuscripts and has received a number of distinctions and prizes, including the Dexter Man Chair of Cardiology and Research Achievement Award of the University of Toronto, and the Research Achievement Award of the Canadian Cardiovascular Society. Throughout his career, Dr. Stewart has demonstrated leadership in bringing diverse groups of clinicians and scientists together to put Canada on the world stage for translational cardiovascular and regenerative medicine research.


As well as serving as President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Duncan is Executive Vice-President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital and CEO and Scientific Director of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, an active senior scientist in The Ottawa Hospital’s Regenerative Medicine Program and holds the Evelyne and Rowell Laishley Chair. He is also a Professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Ottawa, Scientific Director of the Canadian Vascular Network and a practicing cardiologist.


Sandra Donaldson - Vice President & Chief Operating Officer

Sandra has over 25 years of experience in network development and scientific research and has fulfilled several roles at OIRM including, Vice President, Strategy & Partnerships and Associate Director. Prior to working with OIRM, she was the Program Manager for the Ontario Stem Cell Initiative where she expanded a Toronto-based initiative into a virtual network of 145+ stem cell research programs across the province, leading to the establishment of the OIRM. She also managed a clinical research program in spinal deformity, benign bone tumors and club foot deformity in Orthopaedic Surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children. During this time, she collaborated to develop a North American Clinical Trials Network in paediatric orthopaedic surgery and managed its first international, multi-centre clinical trial across 50 institutions, overseeing all scientific, ethical and regulatory approval processes (A RCT comparing intralesional bone marrow and steroids for simple bone cysts). Previously, Sandra worked in orthopaedic research programs at several Ontario hospitals including Women’s College, Mount Sinai, Princess Margaret and London Health Sciences Centre. She has published clinical research in a variety of orthopaedic journals and was also a freelance health columnist for CBC News Online. Sandra has a B.A. from the University of Western Ontario, a Certificate in Medical Writing and Editing from the University of Chicago, and is a member of the Canadian Society of Association Executives.


Cheryle Séguin - Director, Research

Cheryle is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at The University of Western Ontario and a Scientist with the Lawson Health Research Institute and Children’s Health Research Institute. Cheryle obtained her BSc (1999) and MSc (2001) from The University of Western Ontario and her PhD in the area of cell biology and tissue engineering from the University of Toronto (2005). Following this, she became a postdoctoral fellow with Janet Rossant at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto ON, working in the field of early mammalian development and stem cell biology.

In 2009, Cheryle was recruited to The University of Western Ontario where her research program is centered on understanding stem cell fate and function. Her primary interest is examining cell fate determination within the intervertebral disc and the development of strategies to exploit the role of tissue specific stem cells for spine and skeletal tissue regenerative medicine. Her lab has been supported by operating grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, and the Chordoma Foundation. Cheryle is a previous recipient of a Canadian Arthritis Network Scholar Award and is currently supported by a CIHR New Investigator Award and an Early Researcher Award from MRI.

At Western, Cheryle was co-Director of the Joint Motion Program, a CIHR Strategic Training Program in Musculoskeletal Health Research and Leadership and currently co-directs the Collaborative Training Program in Musculoskeletal Health Research.  Since 2011 she has served as Chair of the Stem Cell Network Training & Education Committee and has been involved with both OSCI and OIRM as a member of Governing Council.


Harry Atkins - Director, Clinical Translation

Harry is a physician of the Ottawa Hospital Blood and Marrow Transplant Program, an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Ottawa, a scientist in the Center for Innovative Cancer Research and the medical director of the Regenerative Medicine Program at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

He received his Bachelor of Medical Science degree and Medical Degree from the University of Ottawa followed by a rotating internship year at the Victoria General Hospital in Victoria BC. Specialty training in Internal Medicine was done at the University of Ottawa. Clinical and research fellowships in Hematology, Stem Cell Transplantation and Experimental Hematology followed at the University of Washington and at the Ontario Cancer Institute.

He specializes in the management of patients requiring stem cell transplantation and he has spearheaded the use of stem cell transplantation for immune repair to treat patients with severe autoimmune diseases, including Multiple Sclerosis, Myasthenia Gravis and Stiff Person Syndrome. He has also developed clinical trials exploring the role of dose escalated radiation therapy to treat refractory blood cancers. His laboratory research includes a longstanding and fruitful collaboration with Dr. John Bell developing oncolytic viruses particularly for the treatment of hematological cancers as personalized cancer cell vaccines. 


Penney Gilbert - Director, Education and Outreach

Penney is an Assistant Professor in the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) and holds cross-appointments in the Department of Biochemistry and the Donnelly Centre at the University of Toronto. Penney obtained her BSc (1999) from Haverford College and her PhD (2006) from the University of Pennsylvania in the area of cell biology and mammary oncogenesis. Following this she switched research focus and became a postdoctoral fellow with Helen Blau at Stanford University in California working in the field of skeletal muscle stem cells under the support of an NIH Pathway to Independence K99/R00 Award.

In 2012, Penney was recruited to the University of Toronto where her research program is focused on skeletal muscle endogenous repair. Her team engineers and studies three-dimensional models of human skeletal muscle and explores muscle stem cell mechanobiology with the goal of identifying signaling pathways that can be tweaked to boost the function of skeletal muscle stem cells in the body. Her lab was supported by grants from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, Connaught Fund, and U of T Faculty of Medicine Dean’s Fund. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Ontario Research Fund, Medicine by Design CFREF, and an Early Researcher Award from MRI currently support her work.

At the University of Toronto Penney is Chair of the IBBME Distinguished Seminar Series, and she is a member of the IBBME Curriculum Committee, the Collaborative Program in Developmental Biology Steering Committee, and Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy Animal Care Committee. Penney has been involved with OIRM as a member of the Governing Council and is an Associate Member of the American Society for Cell Biology Women in Cell Biology Committee.


David Courtman - Regulatory & Manufacturing Advisor

David is trained in cellular and molecular pathology and biophysics with extensive expertise in the development of novel therapies for cardiovascular disease. He has a long-standing interest in the development of novel cardiovascular biomaterialsand the regulation of biological responses within the unique spatially oriented matricellular environment of blood vessels. He has also participated in the development of a number of cellular based gene therapies for the treatment of cardio-pulmonary disorders taking them from initial concept, through appropriate animal disease models, and into first-in-human clinical trials. David is currently directing the manufacturing of these cell products for trials treating patients suffering from pulmonary arterial hypertension, myocardial infarction, and sepsis. He is a Scientist and Direct of Biotherapeutics at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa, and Chief Scientific Officer of Northern Therapeutics.


Sowmya Viswanathan - Regulatory & Manufacturing Advisor

Sowmya is focused on translational research, which especially for the emerging field of cell-based therapies requires an integrated understanding of preclinical studies, clinical investigations, cell manufacturing and regulatory compliance.  As the Associate Director of the Cell Therapy Program at the University Health Network, She oversees all of these aspects, and is responsible for translating over 10 cell-based research projects into Health Canada/FDA-approved clinical investigations.  She leads a multidisciplinary team of project officers, clinical fellows, clinical nurses and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP)-skilled technicians who work in a state-of-the-art GMP-compliant cell manufacturing facility.  She is currently working on over 10 clinical investigations, both investigator- and industry-led ranging from osteoarthritis, cardiac disease, immunotherapy treatments for cancers, lysosomal storage disorders to acute kidney failure. 

Sowmya is involved in the design and development of a new GMP-compliant cell manufacturing facility at MaRS II.  She regularly serves as a national regulatory and cell manufacturing consultant for projects across Canada, and is a clinical translation and regulatory consultant for the Center for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine.  She is a founding member, and chair of the Manufacturing Committee of a network of Pan-Canadian cell manufacturing facilities called CellCAN, and is leading efforts to fund this initiative. 


Stella Desouza - Administrative Lead 

Stella has more than 20 years of experience in administrative leadership, support and improvements that were primarily focused in the health care, government and non-profit sectors. Prior to joining OIRM, Stella worked with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences where she managed, reported and provided support on a number of initiatives and multiple assignments in privacy, data, technology and security. She is a certified programmer, with a strong background in privacy principles and practices, information, project management and administrative processes.




Marc Frigault - Senior Manager, Business Operations


Marc brings over 13 years of experience managing research operations in private and non-profit sectors. Prior to joining OIRM, Marc worked at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research where he was responsible for managing business operations and the financial oversight of 14 research programs, as well as leading several Institute projects. Previously, Marc held the position of Director, Research Administration at NoAb BioDiscoveries where he managed the company’s overall operations, conducting contract discoveries studies for the pharmaceutical industry. Marc also held management positions at several contract research organizations where he was primarily responsible for heading the industry-leading patient recruitment and medical screening operations for hundreds of clinical research trials. Marc holds certifications as a Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP) and is a member of the Canadian Association of Research Administrators. 


 Jodi Garner - Senior Manager, Science and Industry Relations

Jodi has over 10 years of academic, healthcare and research operations experience. Prior to joining OIRM, she worked in the laboratory of Dr. Janet Rossant, most recently as the lab manager. Jodi was also the manager of the Embryonic Stem Cell Facility at the Hospital for Sick Children for the last 5 years where she has worked with a variety of researchers in the field of stem cell biology. She has extensive experience in establishing and leading technical training workshops and managing various research initiatives. Jodi holds a MSc in Stem Cells and Regeneration from the University of Bristol, her thesis work focused on investigating different states of pluripotency in human embryonic stem cells. 

Senior Communications Advisor - Lisa Willemse

Lisa is a communications professional with 18 years experience working in the technology, child development and health research fields, most recently with the Stem Cell Network. Her background includes training in fine art, communications and journalism and she spent several years working as a freelance editor, writer and photographer for a range of Canadian and US-based publications. In 2014, she was invited alumni-in-residence for the acclaimed Science Communications program at the Banff Centre. She is involved in several online art and science-based initiatives, including contributor to the Canadian Blood Services and Genome Alberta blogs and Board member for Science Borealis, a Canadian science blog aggregator. She also volunteers for local mountain biking and cross country ski clubs in her area. Follow her on Twitter and Medium @WillemseLA