It’s become second nature for Drew Taylor (IBBME PhD candidate) to begin his day at the lab and end it atop a pitching mound.
Since 2008, he’s been juggling a full-fledged baseball career as a pitcher for the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team, while researching tissue engineering at U of T.
Taylor – who was also a minor league pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies – isn’t the first to combine high-level athletics and academics. Taylor’s father, Ronald Taylor (ElecE 6T1), graduated from U of T Engineering before pitching for teams such as the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals. After two World Series wins, he went on to pursue medicine and is now the Toronto Blue Jays’ team physician.
“Because of him, it feels like a natural progression. If I didn’t have [baseball and research], I wouldn’t know what to do with all my time,” said Taylor.
As an athlete, Taylor’s experience with sports injuries has inspired and motivated his research in cartilage tissue engineering.
“I went through an injury when I was playing for the University of Michigan and ended up missing the entire season,” he said. “I battled back through rehabilitation and got to a point where I was throwing close to where I was before, but my arm never recovered 100%.”
Since cartilage lacks natural delivery of blood or nutrients, it is very difficult to repair when it gets damaged. Working under Professor Rita Kandel (IBBME), who is Chief of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, Taylor is focused on growing the connective tissue in a patient. The challenge is doing so without losing collagens that make cartilage functional.
“We’re trying to expand it while maintaining those properties so that it’s capable of withstanding force,” he said. “Ultimately, I’d like to take the research from the lab to a level where there are direct applications, and it starts helping people.”
Taylor is now in his final year of his PhD program. After he graduates, he sees himself pursuing medicine at U of T and continuing his research. That means finally putting aside his baseball career.
“My focus has shifted to the research,” he said. “I’ve seen way too many people struggling to walk or to even get out of bed because of the pain from lack of cartilage. If we have the ability to re-coat that surface with tissue that is functional and can repair itself, that would be an amazing contribution.”