Dr. William Stanford has been named The Ottawa Hospital’s Chrétien Researcher of the Year for his work on blood cancer and other diseases

“Laughter basket” inspired laboratory researcher to connect with patients, develop new treatments

October 23, 2018

Dr. William StanfordWhen Dr. William Stanford first became a biological scientist, he simply followed his curiosity and was happy to let others pursue any practical applications of his research. Today, as a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa, he goes on bedside rounds with clinicians, meets with patients and dreams of launching clinical trials.

It all started in 2009, when Dr. Stanford received a “laughter basket” including a rubber chicken and other joke gifts from a young woman with a rare and deadly lung disease. Although he had never heard of her or her disease, called lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), the basket was so intriguing that he set up a meeting with her.

“She was sending these baskets to all kinds of scientists and trying to convince them to study her disease,” said Dr. Stanford, who was working at the University of Toronto at the time. “When I started looking into it, I realized that I could use stem cells as a model to understand how LAM starts and possibly test new treatments. Meeting her and others with LAM really changed my outlook.”

The research was promising, but eventually Dr. Stanford realized that he needed to collaborate with more clinically-minded people if he was going to make a difference for patients.

“The Ottawa Hospital had a great reputation for helping researchers take their discoveries from bench to bedside, so that’s where I went,” said Dr. Stanford.

Since coming to Ottawa in 2011, Dr. Stanford has made important discoveries related not only to LAM, but also to conditions such as osteoporosis, premature aging and blood cancer. The common theme is using stem cells as a model to understand or treat these diseases.

“Most scientists tend to focus on one or maybe two diseases, but Bill’s research spans a huge spectrum, and he’s making important contributions in all these areas,” said Dr. Duncan Stewart, a senior scientist and Executive Vice-President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. “He’s a bit of a renaissance man in science.”

Dr. Stanford’s discoveries hold promise of new treatments for many diseases, but especially for blood cancer. Working closely with hematologist Dr. Mitchell Sabloff and laboratory researcher Dr. Caryn Ito, Dr. Stanford recently developed a promising targeted strategy to treat chemotherapy-resistant acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The experimental treatment cured 100 percent of mice with the condition, while mice that received the standard treatment all died.

“We were blown away by the results,” said Dr. Stanford. “If this holds up in clinical trials, we could have a new treatment for people who would almost certainly die of their disease today.”

One of the most rewarding parts of the project was that Dr. Stanford was able to meet people with AML who had donated samples to his research.

“I recently went on rounds with Dr. Sabloff and some of the patients said ‘Oh, I remember giving blood for that study’ and I could tell them how their contribution is making a huge difference to our research,” said Dr. Stanford. “That was really cool for me.”

Dr. Stanford continues to follow his curiosity in research, but it’s not the only factor anymore.

“Basic science is hugely valuable – without it there would be no new therapies,” he said. “But if you can also turn your research into new treatments, that’s even better.”

Dr. Stanford will receive The Ottawa Hospital’s Chrétien Researcher of the Year Award on October 27, 2018.

Affiliations and acknowledgements: Dr. Stanford is a senior scientist in the Regenerative Medicine Program at The Ottawa Hospital, which includes the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research and the Sinclair Centre for Regenerative Medicine. He is also a professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular  Medicine at the University of Ottawa and holds a Canada Research Chair in Integrative Stem Cell Biology and Functional Genomics. He is also a member of the Ottawa Centre for Epigenetics Research, the Stem Cell Network and the Ontario Institute of Regenerative Medicine. Dr. Stanford’s research is possible because of generous donations to Regenerative Medicine research at The Ottawa Hospital. He is also supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Cancer Research Society, the LAM Foundation, the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, the Heart and Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

About The Ottawa Hospital: Inspired by research. Driven by compassion: The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada’s largest learning and research hospitals with over 1,100 beds, approximately 12,000 staff and an annual budget of over $1.2 billion. Our focus on research and learning helps us develop new and innovative ways to treat patients and improve care. As a multi-campus hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, we deliver specialized care to the Eastern Ontario region, but our techniques and research discoveries are adopted around the world. We engage the community at all levels to support our vision for better patient care. See for more information about research at The Ottawa Hospital.

About the University of Ottawa —A crossroads of cultures and ideas: The University of Ottawa is home to over 50,000 students, faculty and staff, who live, work and study in both French and English. Our campus is a crossroads of cultures and ideas, where bold minds come together to inspire game-changing ideas. We are one of Canada’s top 10 research universities—our professors and researchers explore new approaches to today’s challenges. One of a handful of Canadian universities ranked among the top 200 in the world, we attract exceptional thinkers and welcome diverse perspectives from across the globe.

Media Contact: 

Jennifer Ganton
Director, Communications and Public Relations
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Office: 613-798-5555 x 73325
Cell: 613-614-5253


Scientific Program tags: Regenerative Medicine Program