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The R. Samuel McLaughlin Foundation

The McLaughlin Foundation enabled U of T to launch the McLaughlin Centre, helping transform the field of genomics and advancing personalized medicine as a powerful new weapon in the fight against disease.

In 1952, Robert Samuel “Colonel Sam” McLaughlin, the founder of General Motors of Canada, launched the R. Samuel McLaughlin Foundation at the urging of a fishing partner who wanted him to help finance post-graduate studies for medical students.

Over the years, the McLaughlin Foundation’s mandate grew as it donated nearly $200 million to charities and institutions across education, health care and culture. When the foundation wound down in 2001, it provided $50 million, half of its total assets at the time, to the University of Toronto. The Ontario government matched the gift, as did the University of Toronto and four of its affiliated research hospitals, bringing the total to $150 million. The funds launched the R. Samuel McLaughlin Centre (now the McLaughlin Centre) at the Faculty of Medicine.

The McLaughlin Centre is a virtual research institute where scientists from across the University and affiliated hospitals come together to work on genetic and biomolecular solutions for preventing, diagnosing and treating disease. The McLaughlin Centre has made spectacular research advances over the years, building a worldwide reputation. These breakthroughs include the finding that individual genomes have a large number of structural variants; the identification of 18 new genes that increase the risk of autism; and mapping the underlying factors in pediatric and brain cancers. The Centre also launched the Personal Genome Project Canada, making the case for whole genome sequencing and personalized medicine in mainstream health care.

These sorts of discoveries would have been the stuff of pure science fiction at the time that “Colonel Sam” launched the foundation that bears his name. However, the hope these outcomes offer to all patients and their families is in perfect alignment with McLauglin’s original philanthropic vision.