Professor Roderick McInnes

Department of Paediatrics and Dept of Medical Genetics and Microbiology

Appointed a University Professor in 2003

Professor Roderick McInnes is an internationally recognized human geneticist and a world leader in the fields of eye development and inherited eye disease. He has made a number of seminal discoveries in vision research, including the identification of major regulatory genes of eye development, the association of these genes with inherited blindness, and the co-discovery (with Derek van der Kooy) of retinal stem cells. His landmark paper showing that neurons in photoreceptor degenerations display exponential death kinetics has profoundly altered the understanding of these diseases.

Professor McInnes' research aims to understand two fundamental problems in neurobiology. First, his laboratory uses the mammalian eye as a model to understand the development of the nervous system. His goal is to identify key principles and molecules that underlie both eye development and the maintenance functions of the mature eye, particularly the retina. His laboratory discovered a novel gene, Chx10, that proved to be a major regulator of eye formation. This gene controls the division of the cells that form the retina, the formation of one type of neuron in the adult retina and the growth of the entire eye. They then discovered that the only gene closely related to Chx10 in nature, Vsx1, is also required for normal eye formation, since it controls the maturation of one class of retinal neurons, and is also associated with inherited eye defects in humans. In developing work, the McInnes lab has discovered two brain proteins (Neto1 and Neto2) that they have shown to be essential to several important steps of brain development. These proteins are required for the normal function of synapses associated with memory.

The second major research interest of Professor McInnes is to understand why neurons die in inherited neurodegenerative diseases. In addition to discovering and characterizing the retinal degeneration genes Crx and Rom1, his laboratory has identified a common principle that appears to underlie virtually all inherited photoreceptor degenerations. His realization of the significance of the exponential rate of decline of cell numbers that is characteristic of photoreceptor degenerations, and perhaps other neurodegenerative diseases, has conceptually changed the outlook of scientists on these disorders. Cell death in these diseases is now viewed not as the result of cumulative cell damage but as the outcome of the continuous elevation of the risk for instantaneous death that is realized stochastically throughout the life of the organism.

Professor McInnes is held in high esteem within Canada and abroad. In addition to an excellent publication record, he is co-author of a major textbook in medical genetics and has given over 140 invited lectures. Currently, he has research funding of more than $600,000 per year and has held almost $6 million in previous research funding. He has held many leadership positions outside of the University and Hospital for Sick Children, including his appointment in 2000 as the inaugural Scientific Director of the Institute of Genetics, Canadian Institutes of Health Research. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2001, and was awarded the 2002 Samuel Rosenthal Prize for Excellence in Academic Pediatrics by the Rosenthal Foundation, Cleveland, Ohio.

Professor McInnes has received both a B.Sc. and M.D. from Dalhousie University, a Fellowship in Pediatrics from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons (Canada), a Ph.D. from McGill University and a Fellowship in Biochemical Genetics from the Canadian College of Medical Genetics. He first joined the University of Toronto in 1977 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, and worked concurrently in the Research Institute of the Hospital for Sick Children, where he is presently a Senior Scientist.