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NSERC Prizes 2020: Molly Shoichet

Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry
University of Toronto


Video name

NSERC Prizes 2020: Molly Shoichet


NSERC Communications



Release date

November 10, 2020


Although she originally considered becoming a doctor, it was a love of the lab and discovering new knowledge that ultimately inspired Molly Shoichet to focus her talents on engineering the future of medicine. That inspiration launched her on a career that has made remarkable discoveries, fundamentally advanced biomedical engineering research, and is putting the next generation of medical treatments within our grasp.

In recognition of her outstanding accomplishments and discoveries, and for her advancement of scientific knowledge and innovation, NSERC names Molly Shoichet as the 2020 recipient of the Herzberg Gold Medal.

Molly Shoichet

About 15–20 years ago, everybody was growing nerve cells on flat, 2D surfaces. And given that we are not 2D, we asked: I wonder if we could grow cells in a 3D environment? I think the big challenge in research is that you fail all the time.

We are doing things that no one's ever done before, and that's why it's so hard. Years ago, when I was a PhD student, one of my mentors said to me: you know, research is a little bit like playing tennis—the goal is just to return the ball.

So we took the fundamental learning that we had, developed a series of tools, in a sense, for growing cells more generally in a three-dimensional matrix called a hydragel, just a water-swollen material. And then we think, you know, how could that actually be useful so that they're innovations.

Because if you don't have discovery, you're not going to have invention. And if you don't have invention, you're not going to have innovation. And if you don't have innovation, you're not going to have a commercialization and get out to people.

Imagine you have a highly invasive cancer, like brain cancer or lung cancer. Right now we're only screening drugs in terms of how effective they are at killing the cells. But there's always some cells that survive. But now, because we're growing cells in a 3D environment, we can also see how the cells are affected by the drugs in terms of invasion. We can do that with hundreds of drugs at the same time.

And so that's really exciting. We can take those basic discoveries and turn them into something real to really make something better for people. It is something that's motivated me in my research for decades.