Hospital unveils Sprott Centre: A $7-million donation from Eric and Vizma Sprott is to be used as an endowment for a new facility at the Ottawa Hospital that is expected to become a hub for stem cell research in North America

November 16, 2006

By Suzanne Ma
The Ottawa Citizen

Entrepreneur Eric Sprott has an eye for investment. The Ottawa-born businessman is one of Canada's top-ranked investors. But yesterday, he made a different kind of investment -- one that could lead to treatment and possible cures for debilitating illnesses, like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

The Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research was officially opened at the General Campus of the Ottawa Hospital yesterday. Mr. Sprott and his wife, Vizma, donated $7 million, which will be used as an endowment, earning interest that will help pay for the future growth and development of the state-of-the-art facility.

"It's quite analogous for what we look for day-to-day in investment opportunities," Mr. Sprott, 62, said in an interview. "We're always looking for things that will have an explosive impact for our fund holders. It's the same thing for the stem cell research centre. This is something that's going to have an explosive impact."

The 30,000-square-foot facility will become a hub for stem cell research in North America.

"We're at an age where we're seeing a lot of degenerative diseases," Mrs. Sprott, 61, said. "We have friends that are losing their sight, I have a friend who has Parkinson's disease and we have family members and friends who have diabetes. We support anything that's making some sort of headway to find a cure or a treatment to make life easier for those people."

Susan Doyle, president and CEO of the Ottawa Hospital Foundation, said fundraising was a challenge at first.

"There is so much misinformation about stem cell research, about what it is and what it isn't," she said. "But the minute people in the community understood what the potential benefits were, a lot of people gave very generously."

The idea and vision for the Sprott Centre came from Ronald Worton, who is CEO and scientific director of the Ontario Health Research Institute. In the 1960s, Mr. Worton trained in the Toronto laboratories where Ernest McCulloch and James Till first discovered stem cells.

He recruited Michael Rudnicki in 1999 to become director of the Sprott Centre. So far, five stem cell scientists have been recruited from across Canada and around the world. Some envision healing people through transplantation of the powerful cells derived from embryonic stem cell lines, while others are already treating patients with stem cells purified from adult bone marrow. Many are conducting basic research to figure out how to activate the stem cells within our own bodies to stimulate a sort of self-regeneration.

In addition to the Sprotts' contribution, the centre received $8.8 million in federal and provincial grants and $8.6 million in donations from the community.

Mr. Sprott received his Bachelor of Commerce in 1965 from Carleton University. He went on to become a certified chartered accountant before founding Sprott Securities Inc. in Toronto in 1981. He established a $5-million bursary endowment at Carleton University, and in 2001, donated $10 million to the School of Business, which was renamed in his honour.

Note: Reprinted with permission from the Ottawa Citizen.