History

The Department of Medical Biophysics (MBP) offers a graduate program in interdisciplinary research in physics and biology, leading to the degrees of M.Sc. and Ph.D. The program was founded in 1958 under the direction of Professor Harold Johns, pioneer in the then new use of radiotherapy in cancer treatment and inventor of the so-called ‘cobalt bomb’. The new interdisciplinary research model upon which the Department was based played a major role in defining biophysics world-wide. The original goal of the program, train graduate students in cancer research, has been broadened in recent years to include other areas of biomedical science. The first faculty members of the Department, originally entirely based at Princess Margaret Hospital, were staff scientist of the Ontario Cancer Institute. MBP was founded to provide an academic home for these scientists and their graduate students. This contributes to a unique element of MBP in that almost all of our faculty are Research Institute scientists, not tenured University of Toronto professors. As such, the Department does not offer an undergraduate program but graduate training and research.

The Ontario Cancer Institute (OCI) was established in 1957 within the Princess Margaret Hospital (now Princess Margaret Cancer Centre) to specialize in the use of radiation to treat cancer patients. OCI was originally composed of two research divisions: one in physics to develop methods for delivering radiation treatments to patients and understand its interaction with tissue and another in biology to study the biological basis of cancer. This helps explain our Department’s name: research into biology and physics to understand the molecular basis and treatment of cancer - ‘Medical Biophysics’.

The OCI expanded into six research divisions (Applied Molecular Oncology; Biophysics and Bioimaging; Cancer Genomics and Proteomics; Epidemiology, Statistics and Behavioural Research; Stem Cell and Developmental Biology; Signaling Biology, making it one of the largest cancer research and treatment centres in North America. Medical Biophysics has evolved with it, extending to other institutes. The Imaging Group moved to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in 1990, enhanced by the recruitment of an active Cancer Biology Group. Today MBP faculty can also be found at Hospital for Sick Children, Mount Sinai Hospital/Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Hospital and St Michael’s Hospital.

Originally, the Department offered only a single academic stream encompassing a common curriculum for both biology and physics students. The need for specialization was apparent, in 1982 resulting in the development of Medical Physics and Cellular and Molecular Biology streams. Subsequently, a stream was formed in Molecular and Structural Biology in 1995, a field which has matured and is now integrated into the biology stream. with the recruitment of a Structural Biology division within OCI. Today, while students enter with an undergraduate background in the biological or physical sciences, they are offered a diverse and highly integrated modular curriculum which reflects the increasing specialization in biomedical science. Cancer remain the principal focus, but significant programs in cardiovascular disease and neuroscience are also offered. All exploit the interdisciplinary approach to medical research which is the hallmark of Medical Biophysics.