03 Aug 2023

University of Saskatchewan Toxicology Centre Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Markus Brinkmann and Karsten Liber, University of Saskatchewan Toxicology Centre

The world-renowned Toxicology Centre at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, commemorated its 40th anniversary during a special event on 20 June in conjunction with the annual meeting of the SETAC Prairie Northern Chapter. Under the leadership of Karsten Liber, the second-ever Director of the Toxicology Centre, it has grown from a single room to become the foremost Canadian academic institution in the field and one of the top institutions in the world. The various contributions of the centre’s students, staff and faculty have had a lasting impact on the field as well as on stakeholder practices in government, industry and academia.

The practical implications of the centre’s research have been significant, tackling applied toxicology issues that hold an even greater significance in today’s world, which is on a trajectory to rapidly become unsustainable. With environmental degradation, pollution and questionable land-use practices on the rise, there is an urgent need for research that focuses on comprehending the risks associated with various industries, practices and regulations. The key goal is identifying opportunities for improvement.

The necessity for a Toxicology Center was recognized back in the late 1970s when an official Research Group in Toxicology was established under the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM). Subsequently, in 1981, the first students were enrolled in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Toxicology at USask. Formally, in 1983, an agreement with the Government of Saskatchewan was signed, marking the official establishment of the USask Toxicology Research Centre, later simply renamed the Toxicology Centre. Over time, and under Liber's directorship since 1996, the Centre has transformed into an exceptional and leading facility for toxicology research and training. To complement the existing graduate program, an undergraduate program was introduced in 2000, and in 2006, construction commenced on the specialized Aquatic Toxicology Research Facility (ATRF), enhancing the Centre's research capabilities.

The event in June featured remarks from past and present USask and Toxicology Centre leadership, who spoke to the history and future vision for the Toxicology Centre. Representatives from academia, government and industry highlighted the many important contributions the Centre has made to their respective sectors over the years, and alumni from each of the four decades remarked in unison how essential and foundational the training they received at the Centre and in the Toxicology Graduate Program have been for their careers. During tours of major science infrastructure related to the Centre, including the Canadian Light Source synchrotron, the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), the Facility for Applied Avian Research (FAAR), the ATRF and the Toxicology Centre building, participants had the opportunity to gain first-hand impressions of the outstanding research environment on campus. The event was capped off by a banquet dinner that offered countless opportunities for alumni and present students, staff and faculty to share memories and celebrate the Centre’s success.

Barry Blakley, a member of the Toxicology Centre since its earliest days, commended the leadership and dedicated team of researchers who have contributed to elevating the Centre to its current renowned status as a leading institution for both research and training. Blakley and Liber attribute the success and development of the Toxicology Centre to the collaborative efforts of the multidisciplinary team within the Centre and across campus. Blakley emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of the program, highlighting its rarity in surviving and thriving for four decades. He believes that the Centre's enduring success can be attributed to its visionary leadership from the very beginning and a strong commitment to their mission.

Former Director, Karsten Liber


Barry Blakley, Lifetime Achievement awardee


Current Director, Markus Brinkmann


During the anniversary event, Blakley was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Toxicology Centre. He expressed that his career in toxicology has been consistently stimulating and filled with unique experiences. According to Blakley, both students and researchers choose USask for their advanced studies in toxicology due to the institution's well-established reputation developed over many years of dedication to a field with significant real-world applications. He further stated that the Toxicology Centre has evolved from its early stages as an emerging entity to a mature and esteemed institution, recognized for its numerous capacities.

Effective 1 September 2022, Markus Brinkmann was appointed as the new Director of the Toxicology Centre. He is a recognized expert in aquatic toxicology and environmental chemistry, known for establishing a world-class research program that has received substantial funding. Moreover, he has successfully led several strategically important projects for USask. Brinkmann is enthusiastic about building upon the solid groundwork laid by his predecessors. Recognizing the significance of this responsibility, especially as a younger individual taking on this role, he aims to not only continue the Centre's rich history but also drive it forward. He acknowledges the need to adapt the programs to better resonate with the current demographic of students and emerging research needs and perceives this as an exciting challenge to embrace.

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Author's email: markus.brinkmann@usask.ca