National Medical Laboratory Week (April 22-28) is a great opportunity to take a look at one of Canada’s highest-level containment labs and celebrate those who work there to better public health. The National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg, Manitoba is home to many of Canada’s hardworking medical laboratory professionals. Before diving into the work of the NML it’s important to know who is at the helm.
Picture this: it’s 2004, an established junior research scientist walks through the sunlit halls of the NML. Like clockwork, he’s on his way to knock on the door of his chief researcher. Fast forward 11 years and that same junior researcher is now spearheading the course of highly infectious disease research in Canada. Dr. Matthew Gilmour may now be the Scientific Director General (SDG), but his early career was firmly rooted at the NML.
Dr. Matthew Gilmour, Scientific Director General overseeing the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg, MB
Dr. Gilmour works to inspire his team to be revolutionary in their work, whether it’s with the technology being used or in emerging disease research. He challenges them by regularly asking: “What can we, as public health leaders in Canada, do to drive innovation even further?” In fact, it was a challenge like that which led to the modernization of whole-genome sequencing, bringing a new tactic to outbreak responses. This ground-breaking work was essential during the 2008 nationwide listeriosis outbreak.
Scientist working in a Level 3 biosafety cabinet
But what else makes the NML prepared for health risk responses? Beyond having ample resources and a fantastic facility, Dr. Gilmour believes it’s the people who work there and their “ability to ask questions and seek solutions”. Scientists and researchers at the NML have done some amazing work including major vaccine developments like Ebola and achieving significant advancements in genomics. No doubt there are many more big accomplishments on the horizon.
Through National Medical Laboratory Week, Dr. Gilmour wants to challenge medical laboratory researchers, scientists and physicians to explore outside their field of expertise, cross-train and collaborate. “We have an amazing opportunity to develop and curate partnerships across fields and we should all take advantage of that.” He elaborated by saying, “With a broad perspective and skillset you’re able to fill emerging needs for emerging diseases.”
Scientist in a Level 4 suit working with a microscope
Dr. Gilmour is also very emphatic about the importance of collaborating with people outside the lab. In 2012, he trained with physicians as a clinical microbiologist at the Health Science Centre in Winnipeg. After this experience, he recognized the importance of working directly with communities to address public health issues. In fact, he worked with his team to revamp the NML’s core values to mirror that goal, emphasizing the importance of “communication that empowers.” In other words, medical laboratories should be open with communities about their scientific work to empower the public to stay engaged with their health system.
It definitely doesn’t take a microscope to identify his passion for scientific achievement. Dr. Gilmour has received many awards in his field. He is a Fellow of the Canadian College of Microbiologists (FCCM) and a certified Academic Research Microbiologist (ARMCCM). He aims to promote a collaborative atmosphere with active curiosity, encouraging those around him to work together to tackle overlooked questions.
This National Medical Laboratory Week, even if you don’t work at a lab, take up Dr. Gilmour’s challenge and be innovative in your own field by trying something new.