Quirks and Quarks

Biomedical engineer Molly Shoichet wins Canada's most prestigious science prize for 'hydrogels'

Hydrogel give cells a more realistic three-dimensional space to grow in than a standard petri dish

The hydrogels are a 3D growing medium developed for use in biomedical research

University of Toronto Molly Shoichet won Canada's top science price for 2020: the $1 million Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal. (Sylvie Li)

Originally published on November 14, 2020.

In November, the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering was awarded to University of Toronto researcher Molly Shoichet

NSERC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, awards the annual prize, which comes with one million dollars in research funding.

Shoichet is Canada Research Chair in tissue engineering and is professor of chemical engineering & applied chemistry and biomaterials & biomedical engineering at the University of Toronto.

Her work involves developing designer jello-like hydrogel materials for biomedical research. Shoichet's lab has demonstrated a range of applications for these materials.

These include pioneering work developing three-dimensional tissue-like materials in which to culture cells. This allows more realistic understanding of how things like cancer cells grow and invade compared to standard culturing in a petri dish. 

She's also worked on hydrogels that can deliver drugs past the blood-brain barrier, which have potential for treating stroke and brain injury, and gels that can act as carriers and "incubators" for cell transplantation, a technology that's been explored for transplanting retinal cells to treat progressive blindness.

Shoichet spoke with Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald shortly after her prestigious win. You can listen to the full interview at the link above.

Illustration on the left shows the preparation of cells that "invade" the hydrogel. On the right are biopsied lung cancer cells growing in the three-dimensional medium. (Molly S. Shoichet / Advanced Materials)

Produced and written by Jim Lebans