Born and raised on a farm near Kipling, Saskatchewan, Dr. Cory Toth did not grow up with the dream of becoming a doctor. In fact, he jokes that to this day his father still hopes he’ll become a farmer.
But a lifelong love of science and its ability to solve problems led him to medicine. “The interest came after realizing that a lot of the sciences — physics, biology, chemistry — kind of converged on medicine. It gave you the chance to not only study science, but also benefit humanity,” Toth says of his choice.
Following his MD and residency at the University of Saskatchewan, Toth won an Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research Fellowship Award at the University of Calgary. Now as an assistant professor of neuroscience at the U of C, Toth specializes in neuropathic pain.
It’s an area of medicine that, he says, is “a challenging, under serviced condition for most people. A lot of doctors shy away from it.”
It is this challenge that drives his endeavours and successes.
Neuropathic pain is a chronic pain that originates within the nervous system. Sufferers can feel pain anywhere throughout the body, but it often occurs in the feet, making it difficult for patients to walk. Even the weight of bedsheets can cause pain, making sleep difficult.
This pain can be triggered by a number of diseases and conditions, including multiple sclerosis, stroke and diabetes. Diabetes is of particular interest to Toth because the number of people affected by the disease — currently eight percent — continues to rise. “For that reason, it became an interesting thing to study,” he says. The bigger the problem, the larger the challenge for Toth and the greater the benefit of his work.
Toth’s research work on brain degeneration caused by diabetes has received international recognition, including publication in the med-
ical journal, Brain. He has not only described how diabetes degenerates certain areas of the brain, but has developed a scientific model for producing the condition within the lab, making it possible to test treatments. But he’s not content to spend all of his time in the lab.
In 2007, Toth helped to establish Canada’s first, and only, clinic that specializes in neuropathic pain. The clinic, at the Foothills Hospital, allows him to work on the human side of the condition, as well.
“I can get in there and do the research with little mice in the lab and then learn about a new pathway that I can take to a human,” says Toth of marrying his research with his clinic work.
However, Toth does say working both sides of the fence is “almost like having two jobs.” As an outlet, he dedicates his spare time to his family and his two young sons, aged three years and six months.
With a new school year underway, his research continuing and the neuropathic pain clinic set to expand to Red Deer, it seems unlikely his father’s hope of him returning to farming will be fulfilled. “Things don’t always work out the way that fathers want,” Toth says.
And farming’s loss is a big gain for anyone with this difficult medical condition.
Why he’s the top: He is making the medical world take notice with his work on neuropathic pain in the lab and in Canada’s first clinic devoted to the problem. And, as a professor, he is helping students discover their passion for science at all levels of study.
The key to his success: Driven by a desire to overcome challenges, Toth is focused on neuropathic pain, a difficult and growing medical problem.
Note from the Editors
In March 2014, Cory Toth left the University of Calgary after a Committee of Investigation found that he did not have appropriate oversight of the work coming out of his lab, which resulted in a "breach of research integrity." Toth has retracted the publication of nine studies that contained manipulated data. More information can be found in this story, which was published in the Calgary Herald on September 9, 2014.