HHSS alumnus awarded fellowship for hydrogel research
By Olivia Robinson
Published May 29, 2018
Haliburton Highlands Secondary School alumnus Todd Hoare was awarded the prestigious E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship earlier this month to pursue his chemical engineering research into hydrogels and their uses in the medical field.
Hoare is an associate professor at McMaster University’s department of chemical engineering. His research investigates how hydrogels – a material commonly found in contact lenses and diapers – and nanogels can be high-tech solutions to minimizing the number of injections or pills needed to treat serious illnesses.
Originally from Essonville, Hoare graduated from Haliburton Highlands Secondary School before going on to complete his bachelor’s degree at Queen’s University in applied science in chemical engineering and then a doctorate from McMaster University.
The $250,000 fellowship over two years allows Hoare to pursue his innovative research ideas, which otherwise may have been difficult to secure funding for otherwise, he says. It also gives Hoare teaching relief for two years, so he can pursue his research full time alongside a team of master’s and Ph.D students who will assist him in his research.
“Our main focus is actually in drug delivery,” says Hoare. “It’s not discovering new drugs, it’s taking drugs that are already out there and then combining them with hydrogels and nanoparticles and those types of materials to try to get them to the place in the body where they would be the most effective.”
Hoare’s work with hydrogels and nanogels aims to look at releasing drugs at a rate that is most effective – meaning that someone may only have to take one pill, instead of 10 for the same pain relief.
Hoare and his team want to figure out how to give patients or doctors control over how much of the drug can affect a localized area in a non-invasive way, like in patients with arthritis.
Although the fellowship doesn’t require specific benchmarks to be met by the end of the two-year term, Hoare said he hopes to inch closer to the clinical stage of using nanogels.
“We’re looking at things like using ultrasounds and magnets where you can inject or implant something at that site and when you feel pain, turn the magnet on for five minutes, and get that relief without having to do another injection.”
Hoare also works alongside people in the health sciences programs at McMaster University and at several hospitals in Hamilton to try to test his work on animals. If the data is good, Hoare says he hopes to take his work to the clinical stage.
The E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship is presented by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and awarded annually to scientists and engineers who are faculty members at Canadian universities for their outstanding work. The award is designed to enhance their career development and research in their field.
The other five fellowship recipients’ research ranges from artificial intelligence to mathematics to marine life. David Suzuki – the prominent academic and environmental activist – was also awarded the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship back in 1969.
As for Hoare, his parents still live in the Haliburton area, and he tries to come back and visit a few times a year. Hoare fondly recalls how his high school chemistry teacher, Glen Scully, helped him to discover what would later become his career.
“He really sparked my interest in chemistry and learning how things work and making new material,” says Hoare. “He was definitely a big influence on what I chose to do at university, including what I do now.”