Know Your Heroes: James Eubanks

Name: James Eubanks
Title: Senior Scientist and Research Division Head
Number of years working in health care: 28
I was born and raised in: Northern California

I decided to get into health care because even as a child, I was fascinated by science and discovery. I recognized the importance of researching important health-related questions early in my university studies, and wanted to help provide answers to unanswered questions that would lead to helping people.

My role here at UHN is to lead the investigations of a world-class research laboratory focusing on rare genetic neurodevelopmental syndromes, and serve as the Head of the Division of Experimental and Translational Neuroscience at Krembil Brain Institute.

COVID-19 has affected me by, in addition to putting everyone’s health at risk, COVID-19 changed the way we had to do research. Our research activities were severely hampered by COVID, as our lab requires “hands-on” work to be done seven days a week. Our site shut down operations for several months, and then operated under restricted scheduling for several more. Projects had to be suspended, resources were lost, and we are only now beginning to fully “restock the shelves” and get back to full speed.

The thing I love the most about my job is seeing something that no one has ever seen before, and using that new knowledge to answer an important question that moves the field towards the development of better treatment strategies. We know so little about what really causes most rare neurodevelopmental conditions, and with better knowledge comes better treatments or even cures.

The most incredible thing I’ve seen at work is… This is a difficult question because there have been so many. From watching a trainee have an “ah-hah!” moment, to seeing over the years how scientific progress has had a positive impact on patients.  But if I had to highlight one specific thing, it would probably be seeing the response of patient partners when we discuss new results that have direct bearing on their loved ones.  For most of the rare conditions we study, there are very few proven treatment tools in the clinical toolbox. Our work is helping to add tools, and this is really important for families affected by these syndromes.

I’m inspired by the resiliency of people.  Every day, people around the world find themselves facing some pretty challenging things.  The way they are able gather energy and fortitude to deal with these things – and often overcome them – is inspiring. It gives credence to the idea that a small amount of help can make a huge difference when the right people use it.

My personal heroes are, aside from my parents, who worked difficult jobs to give my brother and I opportunities they did not have, I would say the people I see as heroes are the everyday folk who do the hard work that helps others behind the scenes. This includes family members and caregivers who do heroic work for loved one’s affected by something, as well as specialists who do things for patients that not too long ago would have been considered a miracle.

I sometimes worry about, like most parents, I worry about what kind of world my children will inherit over the next few decades. There seems to be a growing number of issues that have major societal implications, and I don’t see a lot of movement towards addressing them. I would like the next generation to not be burdened by the mistakes of previous generations as they become adults and enter society.

I’ve found joy recently from finally getting together with family members to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday.  This was the first time that our family has been able to gather together since the start of COVID, and while caution was still used, it was wonderful to see everyone enjoy an afternoon together.

A movie I love to watch is any good movie with suspense, drama, and unseen twists and turns to keep an audience on their toes works for me.  I watch quite a few movies to help myself relax, and have recently found European crime dramas to be quite engaging.

My ideal day off is being with my wife and family on a hike somewhere off the beaten path. Ontario has so many wonderful places to explore and enjoy, and being able to go outdoors and see nature is something that should not be taken for granted.

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