KITE celebrates fifth birthday with introduction of new storytelling series

This Is KITE aims to excite and inspire audiences while showcasing the Institute’s people, discoveries and research

Dr. Milos R. Popovic can’t seem to take five steps through the halls of the KITE Research Institute without being intercepted by a student, scientist or staff member eager for his opinion, feedback or support.

“I’ve always had an open door policy, so I guess this is a natural extension of that,” he said with a chuckle during one such tour of the University Health Network facility dedicated to helping people living with the impacts of disability, injury and aging.

“But this is my dream job, so I am happy to do anything I can to help our people succeed.”

Dr. Popovic has been doing just that since 2018 when he assumed the role of KITE Institute Director and set out on a mission to transform the field of rehabilitation.

His efforts have been fruitful by almost any metric. The number of principal investigators, scientific trainees, research studies, and research papers published at the institute have all increased significantly in that time period. 

“I attribute this growth to many things, but I don’t think it would have been possible without introducing the new name and brand,” he said. 

The KITE Research Institute name and visual identity were formally introduced on January 30th, 2019, replacing what was at that time the TRI Research Institute. The change was designed to help synchronize the organization's academic direction, strategic priorities, research programs and commercialization efforts while bringing together all of UHN’s rehab scientists, students and staff under one roof.

KITE’s first five years turned out to be bit of a rollercoaster ride marked by a number of thrilling highs and one seemingly never-ending twist in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite the challenges, KITE has achieved many milestones, including hosting 1,400 delegates at Rehab Week 2019, launching the Fabric Based Research Platform (FIBRE),

advancing the capacity of the Center for Advancing Neurotechnological Innovation to Application (CRANIA), organizing the International Conference on Aging, Innovation and Rehabilitation (ICAIR), and signing countless Memorandum of Understandings with collaborators around the globe.

“When I look back at those five years, three things stick out for me: our response to Covid; our scientific output, which almost doubled; and our success building a completely new brand and visual identity,” said Dr. Popovic.

“However, what I am most proud of is that we have created a culture of mutual support, caring, appreciation, collaboration and innovation. That makes me very happy.”

In an effort to reinforce that culture, Dr. Popovic is introducing a new storytelling campaign to mark KITE’s fifth birthday. The goal of the This Is KITE series is to excite and inspire audiences and showcase the Institute’s people, discoveries and impressive range of research.

The campaign includes monthly feature stories and a series of fast-paced and upbeat videos that chronicle key projects under KITE’s three pillars of research: Prevention, Restoration of Function, and Independent Living/Community Integration.

“The launch of this campaign signifies that we have reached a significant milestone. We have achieved liftoff, we have pierced the atmosphere and we are now cruising in a new orbit,” said Dr. Popovic.

This Is KITE is also a natural extension of organizational changes that were implemented last year when KITE revised its existing research structure in order to align with Toronto Rehab’s clinical programs. The move resulted in all scientists, trainees and staff being organized into the following six teams: Aging; Cardiopulmonary; Neurorehabilitation and Neuroscience; Spinal Cord Injury/Neural Engineering & Therapeutics; Multisystem and Musculoskeletal Rehab; and Complex Continuing Care.

These recent changes are already paying off in the form of new academic and industry relationships and partnerships. 

“People are clamoring to work with us now. If you are trying to solve a problem in accessibility, mobility, prevention, neurotech or rehab engineering, we are the go-to research institute,” said Dr. Popovic. 

“We have constructed a well-oiled rehab research machine. We need to add jetfuel to take us to the next level. That means adding scientists, trainees from every corner of the Earth, funding their research and pushing our scientific output to unprecedented levels.”

“To quote Rick Moranis’ character in the classic Mel Brooks sci-fi parody Spaceballs, we need to put this enterprise into ‘ludicrious speed.’’