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Stephen J. Lye, Marla B. Sokolowski to lead U of T's Institute for Human Development

by Jennifer Sipos-Smith and Jim Oldfield

February 15, 2012

Professor Stephen J. Lye will serve as the inaugural Executive Director and Professor Marla B. Sokolowski as the inaugural Academic Director of the University of Toronto’s newly established Institute for Human Development IHD). The announcement came jointly from Professor Julia O’Sullivan, Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and Professor Catharine Whiteside, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine following a highly competitive search led by an interdisciplinary Appointments Committee.

"The Institute will take on the big issues in human development important in Canada and around the world. Increased understanding of these issues, and the development of effective interventions early in life, will have enormous benefits to individuals and peoples everywhere," said Deans O’Sullivan and Whiteside late yesterday.

The Institute is an inter-divisional and -institutional Institute at the University of Toronto. The lead collaborating Divisions are Medicine, OISE and University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), in partnership with University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) and the Faculty of Arts & Science.

Among the goals of the Institute will be to achieve global recognition for improving human well-being and potential through trans-disciplinary research and knowledge mobilization. The aims of the Institute are to contribute to improved human health, learning, social and emotional functioning, including effective approaches to prevention, early identification and intervention to maintain and promote health and wellbeing over the life course. The University of Toronto is one of the few research-intensive universities in the world with the breadth and depth of expertise necessary to engage in this complex scholarly endeavour.

The Institute will promote optimal human development leading to increased well-being overall: healthier people, healthier communities and a healthier world. "We now know that the first 2,000 days of life are critical in setting children on optimal trajectories to health and well-being. The health and well-being of our children is at the core of our values as a society," said Professor Lye.

As Executive Director, Professor Lye will lead the IHD in building inter-disciplinary research capacity among collaborating partners across the University of Toronto, its fully affiliated hospitals/research institutes and institutions around the world. For example, Professor Lye will co-lead an exchange program for two developmental biology Fellows with the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. The program was established through the generous support of former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin, who was at the University of Toronto last week to announce his gift — one-third of one million dollars—to establish the Mats Sundin Fellowship in Human Development.

Professor Lye, who in his early career trained as a teacher in the public school system, is a Professor and Vice Chair of Research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and holds cross-appointments in the Departments of Physiology and Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine. He is also Associate Director of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital and holds the Canada Research Chair in Improved Health and Function. Professor Lye is a recognized leader in the field of women’s and infants’ health whose research focuses on understanding the developmental origins of health and disease and the importance of early developmental factors to optimize life trajectories. He has been instrumental in launching the Ontario Birth Study at Mount Sinai Hospital that will be one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive studies of the impact of development on an individual’s health, learning and social functioning.




As Academic Director, Professor Sokolowski will be responsible for education and training programs within the IHD as well as contributing to strategic research and planning for the Institute.

Marla B. Sokolowski is a University Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Toronto at Mississauga (UTM) and has most recently accepted a position in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Faculty of Arts and Science.  An award winning researcher, mentor and lecturer, Dr. Sokolowski is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Canada Research Chair in Genetics and Behavioural Neurology, and the Weston Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) where she co-directs the Experience Based Brain and Biological Development Program. Her innovative work in behaviour genetics is recognized worldwide and has significantly enhanced our understanding of how genes interact with the environment, thus impacting behaviour and human development.

"Please join us in congratulating Professors Lye and Sokolowski on their appointments and wishing them every success in their new roles with the University of Toronto's Institute for Human Development," shared Deans O’Sullivan and Whiteside in their announcement to the U of T community.

The administrative offices of the Institute of Human Development will be housed at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).