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Dr. Michael McBurney recognized for leadership in cancer research

June 14, 2017

Dr. Michael McBurney, a pioneer in research at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa, will step down from his role as Scientific Director of the hospital’s Cancer Therapeutics Program on June 30, 2017.

Thirty years ago, Dr. McBurney led the drive to build the first cancer research laboratory at The Ottawa Hospital, called the Centre for Cancer Therapeutics. That centre has now broadened into the Cancer Therapeutics Program, which includes more than 300 researchers working together to advance our understanding of cancer, develop new therapies and improve patient care.

“Mike created an environment that nurtures great science and encourages researchers to collaborate, challenge themselves and excel,” said Dr. John Bell, senior scientist in the Cancer Therapeutics Program at The Ottawa Hospital, professor at the University of Ottawa and a world-leader in developing cancer-fighting viruses. “His idea of basic and clinical researchers working together in an open-concept facility helped make The Ottawa Hospital a leader in translating discoveries from the bench to the bedside.”

In addition to his role in cancer research, Dr. McBurney is considered by many to be a founding father of stem cell research. Nearly 40 years ago he isolated a unique stem cell line called P19 that has been used by more than 400 different laboratories around the world to decipher the mysteries of stem cell biology. Indeed, when the prestigious scientific journal Nature republished the top 20 papers from the early days of stem cell research, they included not one but two of Dr. McBurney’s seminal papers in the field. Dr. McBurney has also made breakthroughs in brain and muscle biology, embryonic gene expression, and most recently, on the role of a gene called Sir2 in aging. He has published more than 160 scientific papers and has received many prestigious awards, including the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 2003.

“Mike’s research has really transformed our understanding of stem cells and cancer, and contributed to many of the promising advances that are impacting patients today,” said Dr. Duncan Stewart, Executive-Vice President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital, professor at the University of Ottawa and a world-leader in stem cell research. “He also played a key role in transforming The Ottawa Hospital into one of the top research hospitals in the country, where excellent care is inspired by research, driven by compassion and supported by the community.”

"Dr. Michael McBurney, a tenured full professor at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa, has had a long and successful research career, acting as a leader and mentor, and providing an essential bridge between basic and clinical sciences in the area of cancer research," said Dr. Jacques Bradwejn, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa. "We sincerely thank him and wish him success now as emeritus professor but hope that his retirement does not draw him too far from his passion for science and cancer research!"

Dr. McBurney has mentored many promising young trainees who went on to become scientific leaders in Ottawa and around the world, including Drs. John Bell, Michael Rudnicki, Ruth Slack, Paul MacPherson, Christine Pratt, Ilona Skerjanc, René St Arnaud, Mark Featherstone, Leslie Sutherland and Gary Paterno. He also helped recruit Dr. Ronald Worton to lead the research activities at the former Ottawa General Hospital in 1996.

Dr. McBurney will transition to the role of emeritus scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and emeritus professor at the University of Ottawa. Dr. Ian Lorimer, senior scientist in the Cancer Therapeutics Program, will become Interim Scientific Director of the hospital’s Cancer Therapeutics Program while an international search takes place to find a permanent replacement.

The Ottawa Hospital: Inspired by research. Driven by compassion


The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada’s largest learning and research hospitals with over 1,100 beds, approximately 12,000 staff and an annual budget of over $1.2 billion. Our focus on research and learning helps us develop new and innovative ways to treat patients and improve care. As a multi-campus hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, we deliver specialized care to the Eastern Ontario region, but our techniques and research discoveries are adopted around the world. We engage the community at all levels to support our vision for better patient care. See www.ohri.ca for more information about research at The Ottawa Hospital.

University of Ottawa: —A crossroads of cultures and ideas


The University of Ottawa is home to over 50,000 students, faculty and staff, who live, work and study in both French and English. Our campus is a crossroads of cultures and ideas, where bold minds come together to inspire game-changing ideas. We are one of Canada’s top 10 research universities—our professors and researchers explore new approaches to today’s challenges. One of a handful of Canadian universities ranked among the top 200 in the world, we attract exceptional thinkers and welcome diverse perspectives from across the globe. www.uottawa.ca

Media Contact


Jennifer Ganton
Director, Communications and Public Relations
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Office: 613-798-5555 x 73325
Cell: 613-614-5253
jganton@ohri.ca