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Scientists in Surgery

Approximately 15% of our surgical faculty are individuals who are non-MDs and work as full time scientists. These individuals are significant contributors to the research effort of our Department. This section will endeavour to profile excellence in research among the scientists in our Department.

Professor of Surgery & Physiology
The Hospital for Sick Children, UofT

Carin Wittnich
Carin Wittnich
In 1971, Carin Wittnich received her Bachelor's Degree from McGill University and in 1976, her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Guelph. Her research career commenced with a Masters from McGill University (1985) where she studied the protection of the myocardium through dietary and nutritional supplementation. While squeezing in her Masters, Carin was also busy assisting in numerous research projects such as cardiac assistance using skeletal muscle for cardiac repair and studying elemental diets as protection against radiation injury which resulted in 17 published papers. She also found time to become an instructor of the Advanced Trauma Life Support course for the American College of Surgeons and worked in an emergency veterinary clinic performing emergency animal care. In 1987 Carin was appointed as an Assistant Professor within this Department and since then she has become a successful researcher, a valuable administrative asset and a tremendous educator.

Her research interests initially focused on cardiovascular neonatal/maturational differences in neonates with the goal of improving surgical outcomes. Her lab quickly discovered that there was a sub-group of children who were at greater risk than others and that they should be surgically managed in a different manner. Her team discovered that in this subgroup of young children, cyanosis, their young age and gender appeared to be risk factors. It was also discovered that the high levels of oxygen used during cardiovascular surgery was a detrimental factor on neonates. This important research helped to explain why neonates had higher postoperative morbidity or mortality when compared to adults undergoing cardiac surgical procedures. The results of her work were published in Circulation, Surgical Forum, and Annals of Thoracic Surgery. As a result of this and other innovative research, in 1991 Carin was awarded the Department's George Armstrong-Peters Award as a young investigator who had shown outstanding productivity as an independent investigator for her research work. Continued work in this area produced many important discoveries in the area of metabolic responses of the neonatal myocardium to hypoxia and functional recovery following ischemia which were published in Critical Care Medicine, the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery and the Journal of Heart and Lung Transplantation.

Her work also revealed the fact that female patients seemed to be at greater risk than the male patients and led to an exciting new avenue of research -- the role of gender and its effects on hypertensive cardiovascular disease. Her work in this area revealed that gender does indeed play a role on the myocardial adaptation of the hearts of normal and hypertensive rats to hypertension and this preliminary data led to the first ever basic research gender grant handed out by the Heart & Stroke Foundation and published in the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. She led her team to the discovery that gender and progressive pathology (hypertension and myocardial hypertrophy) influenced the metabolic response to dietary manipulation especially in females with a pathology (Journal of Nutrition). In 2000, for Carin's continued success in research, she was awarded the Lister Prize for her outstanding and continued productivity of an international stature.

Never one to sit back and relax, Carin became Head of Research (Senior Scientist) of the Oceanographic Environmental Research Society (OERS) where she is investigating the amount of pollutants in the marine environment and their effects on marine animals. She co-authored a 70 page report looking at the world-wide concentration levels of mercury in the tissue of various marine mammal species which revealed that mercury levels were still high despite decades of regulatory enforcement. Her work in this area has been presented at international and national meetings.

Carin has always had an inherent talent for teaching and since her arrival in the Department has taught thousands of students ranging from medicine, dentistry, graduate school, undergraduate and summer/ high school. She also created 5 graduate courses and an equal number of undergraduate courses at the university which continue to receive outstanding rankings by her students. She is the founding director of the award winning Cardiovascular Sciences Collaborative Program which is a unique graduate training program that brings together students from various departments who have an interest in expanding their knowledge in the area of cardiovascular studies. Her ability to make complicated topics easy to understand stems from her manner of talking with her students and not to them in presenting the information in a casual manner. Combining her teaching talent to promote research and make it interesting has led to numerous awards including a Northrop Frye Award (Individual-1996), Order of Ontario (2001), Queen's Jubilee Medal (2002), Northrop Frye Award (Divisional- 2004), and the Faculty of Medicine Graduate Teaching Award (2005).

It is very appropriate that Carin should be profiled in an issue of the Surgical Spotlight as this is her 20th year within the Department. Carin's distinguished career in research and teaching within the university has been a direct result of her hard work, dedication and perseverance. That combined with the support that she has received throughout the years from the various chairs, business officers, administrative assistants and others within this Department; Carin therefore reflects the research excellence that is promoted within a scientific community that is world renown.

Michael Belanger
CVT Tech
Department of Surgery, UofT

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