Doors Open Toronto: Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute (Toronto Life Ep. 270)

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Last fall when I spent 90 minutes waiting to get into the Elgin Theatre to watch Butter, I looked up and marveled at the shiny glass building on the next block which I learned is the new Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, part of St. Michael’s Hospital. Now, this weekend is Doors Open Toronto and Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute (LKSKI) was on the roster and the only place I chose to visit once I realized that at many other places, I would be losing my time to queuing to get into places. Further, visiting LKSKI is kind of in keeping with my science background and I have past experience with beautiful research facilities like the BC Cancer Research Centre.


Our tour, which began as soon as critical number of people were assembled on the landing on the second floor, was lead by Steve, a research facilitation director who was clearly giving his first tour of Doors Open with us. I could kind of tell he was struggling not to slip into research jargon and corporate speak as he described the goals and intents of the creation and design of the Keenan Research Centre and adjacent Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre. Afterall, isn’t Doors Open an opportunity for so many business and societies and institutes to show off their work, drum up support and that could lead to sponsorships? To his credit, Steve soon slipped into a comfortable rapport for the rest of the tour.

With St. Michael’s Hospital already in existence just east of Yonge Street in downtown Toronto providing patient care, it was no accident that LKSKI was built just across the street. There has historically been a “know-do” gap between research knowledge and implementation “on the ground”. LKSKI brings the research right next to educators right next to the hospital. Steve said the flow of information is curbed at 40 meters and that the design of the building brings people of the three silos (clinicians, researchers and educators) closer than that.

I wondered how much he believed as he chattered and pointed out the food court and open spaces with modern arm and lounge chairs and the plasma screens advertising the latest science research and researcher news as avenues to foster collaboration. The KT Lounge (KT for knowledge translation?) was particularly modern and I hope that they really do facilitate LKSKI’s goals. Collaboration, especially the interdisciplinary kind, and forming large teams is particularly exciting and makes for big ideas on grant applications and win funding. He even mentioned the abundance of artwork as an avenue to create conversation; the art pieces were kindly donated and include an original Tom Thomson and Robert Bateman, and a photograph by Prince Andrew, to name recognizable names.

We toured the library which had low stacks and plenty of room for research on computers and meetings. Libraries aren’t what they were before and I think it’s especially true in this small modern health sciences one. Besides most of the latest resources now being online in databases and website accessed by subscription, librarians have to adapt to new roles that is not just to pull journals but to kept abreast of changes in technology and how that aids in research.

The Scotiabank Health Sciences library has the prettiest view by which it means you can see three churches from one corner. The entire LKSKI building is by no means hampered in any way by the abundance windows letting in natural light and lending a light feeling even to the basement level.

There are some neat architectural points to LKSKI which is one of the reasons that draws the local tourists out on Doors Open weekend.

The steel and glass pedestrian bridge that provides a dry and warm link between LKSKI and the hospital is a physical symbol of the connection between the hospital side and the “ivory tower” research and education side. It is one of only a few pedestrian bridges connecting buildings allowed in Toronto. Steve told us that people remarked that the bridge structure looks like the double helix of DNA or a stent and being a brown-noser, I did interject that it I think more so it ressembles a stent and he agreed!

The other remarkable architectural feature is the massive staircase across the building’s nine floors on the east side of the building. They really are such big occupiers of space and are not so often used as the elevator so why not make them more interesting? If stairs were vertebrae, well that is too many vertebrae but the white staircase with the thick white beam is referred to as the spinal cord and no doubt looks spectacular when viewed at night from outside on the street.

I had to snap a photo of a graduate student area. It might be a new building and with large windows to encourage collaboration but it is still four-to-a-room student areas completely lacking in privacy.

I would have liked to visit the wet lab areas but that was not to be. Steve described the other two types of research conducted as clinical trials and dry bench research. The latter describes the kind of research my most recent group did in mathematical modeling in epidemiology. But the “labs” we did get to see are the most wowing and splendid ones.

On the bright basement is the Allan Waters Family Simulation Centre where we peered into two patient simulation rooms. The first room we saw was dark and my camera picked up more reflection than what what inside. But it had a mother mannequin and baby mannequins for, I presume, simulating antenatal care for the situations where complications present themselves. The second patient simulation room was brightly lit and we saw the most technologically advanced operating room in Ontario. Each simulation room is equipped with overhead cameras and control rooms separated by one-way mirrors behind which operators can control the reactions of the mannequins. You see, with much shortened post-operative hospital stays (which is generally a good thing), medical students have less opportunity to interact with and study patient cases and simulations take the place.

The Skills Lab was also a wonderful place with kiosks that appear like game consoles. Steve identified the consoles where laparoscopic surgery could be simulated and likened the act of it to be similar to some video games and building muscle memory is key when the real procedure is conducted. The basement-level Simulation Centre where we got the greatest glimpse into the work got me on board with LKSKI!



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