“Through Sunnybrook’s leading innovation and real-life training, I have been fortunate to gain a broader international perspective, enhancing my knowledge and education. For me, it’s about gaining the most current research and expertise to provide the best patient care, all in an effort to advance the science of medicine.
NERVES OF STEEL
THOUGH HE GREW UP in Sydney, Australia, Dr. Andrew Lansdown’s favourite thing about Canada is the weather. An avid fan of winter sports, he excitedly watches the forecast for news of massive snowfalls – and it’s this same sense of adventure that brought him to Sunnybrook.
As a clinical fellow with the Department of Anaesthesia, he is halfway through a one-year fellowship in regional anaesthesia, which involves delivering local anaesthesia to block large areas of sensation.
“It’s been just what I’d hoped it would be: it’s been perfect,” Dr. Lansdown says of his Sunnybrook experience, adding that he’s already recommending it to others.
“What I’ve tried to do is develop a greater theoretical and practical knowledge, so I can take it back home as a better teacher and educator.” Being exposed to a high volume of nerve-block procedures has helped him hone his skills and gain the necessary confidence to take his new expertise back to Australia.
Under the supervision of Dr. Colin McCartney, he has appreciated the effort of the entire Department of Anaesthesia staff to provide education and guidance. He admires his Canadian colleagues for their ability to push themselves professionally beyond their everyday clinical roles, through side projects such as participation in research, councils and committees.
“Everyone has a special talent here, their own niche that they’re really passionate about and working on; it makes for great teamwork,” he says.
Unlike most hospitals in Sydney, Dr. Lansdown says, Sunnybrook provides fellowship opportunities for international staff. Dr. Lansdown’s keen interest in gaining a diverse professional experience, as well as fulfilling his sense of adventure, brought him to Sunnybrook. But ultimately, it is his own medical expertise and unique global perspective that enrich Sunnybrook's caring practices, and no doubt will better the entire hospital community.
THE NIMBLE RESEARCHER
FROM GUITAR RHYTHMS to circadian rhythms, Dr. Georg Bjarnason has come a long way in his life and career. In 1965, he was just a 14-year-old guitarist when his band The Falkons opened for rock legends The Kinks in Dr. Bjarnason’s native Iceland.
“It was amazing,” he recalls. “I did not realize the significance of it until after the fact.”
By age 17, he was already a gliding instructor, flying engineless over the local mountainside. He says that the trick to flying safely was staying nimble and adapting to the rhythms of nature’s air currents.
After earning his medical degree in Iceland, he came to Canada in 1983 to complete his training in internal medicine and medical oncology. Twenty years later, he’s making his biggest mark yet as a medical oncologist with Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre, an expert on kidney cancer and one of Canada’s leading researchers in biological rhythms, or chronobiology.
Here, the responsive approach he learned from flying continues to guide his research in understanding the human body to better individualize cancer treatment.
All living organisms have a 24-hour biological clock or circadian rhythm. Dr. Bjarnason has studied these rhythms and the genes that control important biological processes such as cell cycle, and has found important gender differences in genes at different times of the day that may explain gender differences in the activity and side-effects of most drugs.
Chronotherapy (therapy based on an individual’s circadian rhythm) may help doctors improve drug therapies and minimize side-effects. “Chronotherapy will not cure cancer but may make the most of the few active drugs we have,” says Dr. Bjarnason.
The senior scientist at Sunnybrook Research Institute has studied timing of radiotherapy in patients with head and neck cancer and timing of chemotherapy in patients with colorectal cancer. He and colleagues have confirmed that abnormal sleep patterns are associated with poorer survival in cancer patients.