Oct. 28, 2022

Snyder Institute to uncover new treatments, safer testing thanks to $35M donation

Legacy gift from Joan Snyder to advance excellence at leading chronic disease institute
From left: former dean of the Cumming School of Medicine, Dr. Jon Meddings, MD, Dr. Joan Snyder, OC, Hon. LLD '11 and Dr. Paul Kubes, PhD
From left: Former dean of the Cumming School of Medicine Jon Meddings, Joan Snyder and Paul Kubes. Courtesy Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases

A new $35-million gift left to the Cumming School of Medicine’s Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases by longstanding donor Dr. Joan Snyder, Hon. LLD’11, CM, will both sustain the institute in perpetuity and spark new discoveries that build on its world-leading strengths in microbiome and organoid development research.

The Calgary philanthropist, who has generously invested in University of Calgary medical research and women’s sports excellence since the early 2000s, passed away in April of this year at the age of 90. Her gift to the Snyder Institute is transformational.

“This gift will allow us to recruit the top faculty members and trainees and further elevate our facilities with the best equipment, including the very best imaging tools,” says the institute’s director, Dr. Derek McKay, PhD. “We are tremendously fortunate and grateful for Joan’s visionary philanthropic leadership now and over the past two decades.”

Dr. Joan Snyder, OC, Hon. LLD '11 was proud of the work at the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases.

Joan Snyder was proud of the work at the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases.

Courtesy Estate of Joan Snyder

In 2008, Snyder committed $9 million to bring 100 investigators together under what was then called the Calvin, Phoebe and Joan Snyder Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation. It was named in honour of her parents, whom she credits with teaching her the importance of giving back to the community.

Today, the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases is changing the world through advancing modern medicine’s capacity to ease the burden of chronic and infectious disease.  

“With Joan’s support, we have grown to 480 strong, highly qualified researchers, clinicians and trainees, working collectively across the medical school, across faculties and disciplines and with partners around the world to advance research to prevent disease and discover new treatment options,” says McKay.

We have the people, platforms and commitment to excellence — and now, the sustained philanthropic support — to effect meaningful change.”

With the momentum from Snyder’s initial investment, UCalgary launched the  International Microbiome Centre (IMC), a translational research centre designed to investigate and unlock the healing power of the microbiomes of humans, plants, animals and the physical environment.

The new legacy gift will support the institute’s work to harness the power of organoids — “mini organs” grown in laboratories using patients’ cells — as a way to test new treatments safely and less invasively and to understand and predict how a patient will respond. The institute’s researchers are poised to lead in precision medicine-focused research, by setting the stage to add the patient’s own microbiome to the organoids for even more predictive results.

Dr. Derek McKay, director of the CSM’s Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases

Derek McKay, director of the CSM’s Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases.

University of Calgary

It’s a strategy that excited and intrigued Joan. She was a key fixture and respected partner at the institute and was deeply proud of its work, visiting often before the start of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic to meet with its previous director, Dr. Paul Kubes, PhD, and check on progress.

For Kubes, that progress has included a new approach to healing skin infections and wounds and, in partnership with the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, the discovery of a new cell that can heal hearts. These discoveries were propelled by Snyder’s contributions to the institute’s Live Cell Imaging Laboratory, a space where live cell systems can be analyzed with optical imaging technology.

“Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think everything we've achieved was because of what Joan did. Her contributions have made the University of Calgary and Cumming School of Medicine a destination of choice for researchers,” Kubes says.

“Thanks to Joan's contributions, I think that it will not be too far down the road where some of the Snyder Institute’s new therapies using microbes will help address some of the other big, big health problems of the 21st century — things like liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, post-sepsis syndrome, and asthma and allergies in kids.”

Closeup of lab work at the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases

University of Calgary

Other Snyder Institute work is advancing knowledge in the role of the microbiome in regulating health and disease at the cellular level, including how the maternal microbiome impacts a newborn’s risk for chronic disease later in life. Snyder Institute work in Type 1 diabetes (an autoimmune disease) research led to a $1-billion deal with Parvus Therapeutics to develop nanomedicines designed to reverse autoimmune diseases

Future therapies are expected to have greater success reaching clinical trials, thanks to an additional layer of preclinical testing at UCalgary’s newly funded Wild Microbiome and Immunity Centre (WiMIC). The centre will allow researchers to build and test hypotheses in microbiomes that have been exposed to germs and are more similar to those of humans — building on work started in the IMC.

The Snyder Institute will leverage this generous gift to win other grants and investments. It’s already doing this — Joan’s 2020 gift to the institute’s Biosafety Level 3 Laboratory, one of few in Canada, helped to bolster a multi-million-dollar application for continued federal funding of the laboratory.

Learn more about Joan Snyder’s compassion for the community and her dedication to helping people.

Derek McKay is the director of the CSM’s Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases, and a professor with the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at UCalgary. He was recently awarded the Crohn’s and Colitis Canada Finkelstein Award, which recognizes an individual whose contributions reflect excellence, either through a particular accomplishment or through continuous efforts over time.

Paul Kubes leads the Infections, Inflammation and Chronic Diseases strategy at UCalgary. He is a professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the CSM and a member of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases.

The Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases is a research facility at the CSM focused on advancing modern medicine’s capacity to ease the burden of chronic and infectious disease. Its 480 highly qualified researchers, clinicians and trainees use world-class research facilities and technologies to make groundbreaking discoveries leading to disease prevention, new treatments and, ultimately, cures for these conditions. The institute believes there are undiscovered pathways to precise medical applications called precision medicine — tailored medical approaches — which will improve the quality of life for millions of people. Investments in the institute will spark meaningful discoveries and ensure that this vital research continues.  

The University of Calgary is uniquely positioned to find solutions to key global challenges. Through its research strategy for Infections, Inflammation and Chronic Diseases in the Changing Environment (IICD), top scientists lead multidisciplinary teams to understand and prevent the complex factors that threaten our health and economies.