Reflecting on 2014, looking at The Way Forward in 2015

As 2014 draws to a close, I want to take a moment to express my thanks to all of our learners, educators, researchers, and staff for all the great work you do. And to all our College of Medicine stakeholders and partners, thank-you for your engagement and your support.

On a personal level, I have to thank all of you for the incredibly warm welcome and great support Jane, Marie, and I have received since arriving in Saskatoon. That goes for Murphy too.  He’s now a certified pet therapist and official member of the volunteer workforce at RUH (picture on his name tag and all!).

However, as a college community, we have an especially important thank-you to express to Martin Phillipson as he finishes his role as Vice-Provost, College of Medicine. Martin has made an amazing contribution to our College of Medicine over the last three years and has done it all with remarkable good cheer!  Today, he presented an update on The Way Forward to University Council.

Martin was asked to assume this role in July 2012 and lead, with the dean, the renewal and restructuring of the College of Medicine.  I can assure you one could probably count on one hand the number of senior university leaders across the country willing to embark on such a daunting task. As the old joke goes, if a university president or provost keeps waking up in a cold sweat, it is probably due to a recurring nightmare he or she has two colleges of medicine.

Change is always hard and no medical school wants to think there is need for renewal. Martin took up this challenge with great determination and enthusiasm. While challenging the status quo he always took time to search out multiple perspectives and listen to diverse opinions. And he was always building relationships and endeavoring to bridge divides.

The creation of the Dean’s Advisory Committee opened up the CoM to our many stakeholders. Martin put together the many working groups that contributed to various parts of the strategy that became The Way Forward. I can’t emphasize enough the endorsement this document has received from our university leaders, our funders, our partners and in particular, our accrediting  bodies.

Another old saying is that when you have seen one medical school, you have seen one medical school. But Martin believed there had to be many best practices we could learn from our peers. He did his research and visited nearly all the other 16 medical schools. I often say, and truly believe, Martin knows more about how medical schools are run in Canada than many of the deans and most of the faculty at those schools.

Martin’s work and relationship skills have been particularly effective in growing our stature in the university and it was not without criticism he promoted us as the “Flagship College” at the U of S. It is a worthy and lofty goal that is assumed by many of our peers. He also promoted us as a foundation of the provincial healthcare system.  That vision – more than any other factor -drew me to Saskatchewan. Through that vision, and Martin’s great relationship skills, we have established a strong working relationship with our government partners.

Finally, I want to recognize and thank Martin for his support to the interim deans (which in itself is no easy task) and to me.  For the last seven months, Martin has been an invaluable source of history (almost as good as Kathy Kalyn), and a great advisor. The business world calls this period “on-boarding” and universities are not known for being good at it, but my transition has been remarkably smooth. My personal thanks (and a good bottle of Scotch) go to Martin.

Martin is going on a well-deserved one year administrative leave, but will be here on campus and be with us from time-to-time to assist on some ongoing projects such as the provincial ACFP.

I keep saying in the short term we can be the best small medical school in Canada. While challenging at times, Martin’s and your hard work over the last three years has prepared the foundation for achieving that goal. I firmly believe we are ready and able to “fly on our own”. However, I would like us to pause and thank Martin for his enthusiasm, determination, hard work, warmth and good cheer in contributing to our journey.

Jane, Marie, and I would like to wish all of you the best this wonderful holiday season can bring – with plenty of rest, time with family and friends, and the occasional indulgence! We hope for you and your family, and the College of Medicine, a warm (figured out to live here I must always mention the weather), rewarding, and prosperous 2015.


Service: making contributions to the health of our global community

Many scientists, clinicians, staff and learners at the CoM make enormous contributions to our worldwide community every day.  Community service is an incredibly important thing that defines what universities do and certainly that is so here at the CoM.

I had done an earlier blog on the contributions to our community by our students. However this fall one particular contribution stands out in my mind as quite remarkable and deserving of our acknowledgement and collective thanks and admiration.

Dr. Bruce Reeder from our Department of Community Health and Epidemiology spent this fall in Liberia working with Medecins Sans Frontieres helping control the outbreak of Ebola in that country.

Below is Bruce’s brief and modest account of his courageous and significant contribution to the health of our global community.

This fall, from Sept 23 – Nov 4, I worked as a medical epidemiologist with Medecins Sans Frontieres in the rural northern region of Liberia on the effort to control the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease. 

I joined a team of 25 international and 250 national staff delivering a comprehensive control program in the county in conjunction with personnel from the Ministry of Health.  We provided clinical care in a 100 bed Ebola treatment centre; an outreach team focused on case detection and transportation, the provision of safe burials, the reinforcement of existing health structures; others of us detected the contacts of confirmed cases and ensured they were monitored for the 21 day incubation period of the disease; a community engagement team worked closely with community leaders to provide accurate, culturally sensitive information on the disease, its treatment and prevention. 

The work was intense: 7 days a week from 7 am to 9 pm most days, but the team was of excellent caliber and everyone’s motivation was high to get on top of the outbreak.  In this region of the country, in fact the incidence of the disease has steadily declined since September.  Smiles are returning to the faces of local residents and you again hear music in the streets.

I was pleased to play a small part in this international effort.  Canada is playing a prominent role through the development and testing of potential vaccines, the provision of BSL 4 laboratory support, and supply of volunteers like myself.  The spread of the epidemic is now decreasing throughout Liberia, but continues to grow at an alarming rate in Sierra Leone and is not yet under control in Guinea.  Intense efforts will almost certainly be required for at least another 6-12 months, and in the long term, solid support is needed from the international community to reinforce health systems and infrastructure throughout the region.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report – Early Release/Vol.63
November 14, 2014


A Farewell Note to Kathy…

Today marks the end of an era in the dean’s office as we bid happy trails to a College of Medicine stalwart: Kathy Kalyn.

And if we were able to sum up the overall impression Kathy’s presence in the College of Medicine has had, it would boil down to: humour, capable, helpful, generous, and cheerful. Or at least those are the sentiments her co-workers associate with my hard-working, and perpetually friendly assistant.

As a farewell, we wanted to show Kathy how much she’s been appreciated over the years, and how sorely we’ll all miss her. So here is a small sampling…

Susan Fillo, Administrative Assistant, Council of Health Science Deans

“I support the Council of Health Science Deans which involves really all the Deans in the health science college. I always needed Kathy’s assistance to help set up the meetings – she had so much knowledge. It was so much fun working with such a generous lady with such a wicked sense of humour.

She’s such a generous person, and has the patience of Job. I understand that her job is so intense with requests coming left-right-and-centre but her utter patience was awesome.”

Doreen Stumborg, Administrative Coordinator, Research Groups

I am very happy for Kathy. She’s worked a long time on this campus, but I’m really sad for us because she’s a great presence, a great friend. She has history and the experience, not only with this college, but with this campus – she will be sadly missed.

If I was to say anything to Kathy, I’d say it’s been such a pleasure to work in the same office as you, I’ve treasured our times together, and especially the knitting times, I will definitely miss our conversations. I know she will absolutely love retirement and she’ll be able to do all those things she wished she had the time to do now.

So I’m happy for her, and I’m sad for us.”

William Albritton, former Dean of Medicine

“When I joined they were having difficulties finding secretaries for that position, so I told them I would find my own secretary. I figured the secretary of the department of surgery would be able to handle the kinds of issues that were present – she was a little tentative about it at first, but I think she grew to like it.

Kathy can handle problem people with great grace and style, I’ve never seen anybody who was that good – she never got worked up or upset.

She kept me sane – I don’t know what I would have done without her. From what I’ve seen in those ten years there was no one else quite like her.”

Brenda Engel, Executive Assistant, Department of Surgery

“I have known Kathy for 14 years, and to me she is the most popular person in the College of Medicine and Department of Surgery. I’ve never heard one bad thing of her, she’s just so genuine, helpful, nice, and so happy all the time – the most positive person I’ve ever met.

I obviously wish her well, I know she’ll love being at home with her granddaughter, and I hope for all good things for her.”

As for myself, my first reaction to hearing that Kathy intended to retire was “Oh no, you can’t!”

But she’s at that point where she has every right to retire, and she has a growing family that she wants to spend time with, so I’m happy that she’s getting the opportunity to focus on what she loves.

But that doesn’t mean that she won’t be missed in this office.

Her wisdom has been an invaluable resource since I became dean in June.  Kathy really does know everybody and everything, and she knows how to get things done around here – which is no easy feat!  A favour asked by Kathy will always be answered with a ‘yes’, because she’s the kind of person who’s unquestionably respected.

So Kathy, thank you for being here – you made my transition to the dean’s office so much easier. And on behalf of myself and all your co-workers, past and present, we’d like to offer our best wishes for your retirement.

We’ll miss you!

Success in research

Over the last six months I have had the opportunity to meet with some incredibly talented and invested researchers in our College of Medicine.  What is truly unique about the research enterprise is the unbelievably rich environment to undertake collaborative research both within the CoM and between the colleges and institutes on the U of S campus.

The infrastructure and environment within the Health Sciences Centre aims to build on the “TEAM” approach to science and discovery.  I have not had the opportunity to personally meet all of the cluster leaders, but the effort is well underway.  We are making steady progress.  The Council of Health Sciences Deans is committed to the process and, as a co-chair with Dean Lorna Butler, we will continue to support the TEAM approach to research.

At this stage, our biomedical sciences are continuing to have success at both the provincial and national levels and I have highlighted a few of their projects below.  More importantly, I am working to further support our research agenda and exploring ways of involving the dean’s office to the research enterprise.

In this regard, Dr. Gordon McKay, the CoM’s Vice Dean of Research, and his team need to be fully supportive of the researchers in the College.  We are exploring a number of ways to ensure this happens, including the embedding of the Vice Dean’s office more clearly within the research structure of the College.

As I mentioned I wanted to highlight a few of the many active projects currently underway and also a few of our successes in research funding, and awards at the College of Medicine.  This is by no means an exhaustive list.  Think of it more like scratching the surface of the research success achieved by our colleagues.  In these few highlights, I hope you will have a sense of the breadth of work being done.  These folks all deserve some recognition:

Dr. Darryl Adamko was awarded both a $120,000 SHRF Establishment Grant for his research into better diagnosing asthma and COPD, as well as a $20,000 grant from Cystic Fibrosis Canada for ‘Improved diagnosis and management of CF: A pilot study to develop a metabolomics approach to cystic fibrosis.’

A $110,000 SHRF Establishment grant was awarded to Dr. Camelia Adams for her biopshychosocial exploration of the relationship between childhood trauma, adult attachment and the severity of depression and social anxiety.

Dr. Lane Bekar received the top award in the 2014 SHRF Establishments Grant program this year. His research focuses on understanding how the immune system changes under conditions of chronic stress and its role in the increases of chronic neurodegenerative conditions seen in society today.

A Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Center for Nuclear Innovation grant awarded to Dr. Paul Babyn and colleagues will be used to create the Saskatchewan Molecular Imaging Centre (SMIC) – a state-of-the-art research facility – to drive molecular imaging innovation. Molecular imaging is a powerful technique that is revolutionizing our understanding of the biology of living organisms by enabling real-time, non-invasive studies at the tissue, cellular, and sub-cellular level using custom synthesized short-lived isotopomers. This imaging initiative will be unique in Canada, applicable to molecular imaging in humans, animals, and plants.

Dr. Yalena Amador Canizares was awarded a SHRF Postdoctoral Fellowship to work with Dr. Joyce Wilson on her Hepatitis C research.  Her research aims to discover how Hepatitis C Virus infections are promoted at a cellular level and then use the information to develop new ways to inhibit the virus and treat HCV infected patients.

Dr. Linda Chelico was awarded a 5 year renewal of her CIHR operating grant to continue her studies of the role of the APOBEC enzymes in HIV infections.  She was also asked to continue as a member of the CIHR Virology and Viral Pathogenesis research grants evaluation committee, and was also invited to join the group of reviewers evaluating applications in Stage 1 of the CIHR Foundation Scheme: 2014 1st Live Pilot competition

Dr. John Gordon and his research colleagues have been studying how to treat asthma, multiple sclerosis and peanut allergen-induced anaphylaxis shock using a humanized model in mice. Based on the results they have developed a strategy of treatment translatable to a clinical trial in humans.  This trial, in compliance with requirements from Health Canada, will hopefully begin within the next two years.  Dr. Gordon was awarded the 2014 SHRF Achievement Award for his scientific contributions at the local, national, and international level that have led to widespread recognition of his expertise and innovation.

Dr. John Howland won the U of S New Researcher of the Year award for 2014, and was part of a successful team grant funded by Brain Canada wherein he will receive $100,000 per year for three years.

The recent discovery of what may be a key component to understanding lung function in people with cystic fibrosis by Dr. Juan Ianowski and colleagues may lead to further discovery that will help the approximately 4,000 Canadians and countless others who suffer with CF.   Using a pig model, Dr. Ianowski et al are testing the minute layer of liquid in the lungs that normally protects the cells from attack by bacteria but reacts differently CF diseased lungs. Juan Ianowski was awarded a research grant from Cystic Fibrosis Canada of $74,000 per year for three years and was invited to be the keynote speaker at the North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference.Dr. Ivar Mendez’s work in stem cell therapy led not only to his work being featured in Scientific American Mind, but to Canadian and American patents for his Neural Transplantation Delivery.

Dr. Darrell Mousseau received widespread acclaim for his research into Alzheimer’s Disease, and the links between gender, depression, and Alzheimer’s.

A $165,000 innovation grant was awarded to Dr. Troy Harkness and his team by the Canadian Cancer Society to help continue his lymphoma research in dogs to help improve the effectiveness of similar treatments in humans with cancer.

The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation awarded Dr. Erique Lukong and Dr. Keith Bonham a three-year foundation grant for their project on ‘Epigenetic regulation of the FRK tumor suppressor gene in triple negative breast cancers.’

Dr. Stephan Milosavljevic won an $119,000 Establishment Grant from SHRF for his ‘Walking away from low pain: One step at a time’ study.  Dr. Milosavljevic’s research focuses on investigating the use of walking as a health strategy for chronic low back pain, especially among farmers.

How do you know for sure if you have a concussion?  Up until recently you didn’t – without a very high-tech brain imaging scan. Dr. Changiz Taghibiglou and his colleagues have found that head trauma can cause a specific brain cell molecule to loosen and circulate in the blood. These researchers are working towards the development of a blood test which could result in almost instant diagnosis on the football field, hockey rink and at the scene of accidents, resulting in better and quicker decision making for paramedics, sports trainers and other first responders.  Their discovery is also applicable for screening military service personnel exposed to battlefield blasts.  A patent for the test has been filled through the U of S Industry Liaison Office.

A new five year CIHR operating grant was awarded to Dr. Joyce Wilson for studies of the replications of Hepatitis C Virus.  She was also asked to continue as a member of the CIHR Virology and

Viral Pathogenesis research grants evaluation committee, and was invited to join the group of reviewers evaluating applications in Stage 1 of the CIHR Foundation Scheme: 2014 1st Live Pilot competition.

When the last RUH Foundation campaign reached $67,000 to buy a telemetry bed, Dr. José Tellez-Zenteno commissioned the artist, Eduardo Urbano Merino, to commemorate the occasion.  The painting called “Epilepsy – Leaving the Nightmare Behind.” A second campaign intended to benefit patients with epilepsy is soon to be underway and a second painting has been commissioned.  Watch for it next year.

Please remember, this is only a small sampling, but I hope it will give you all an appreciation for the expertise of your colleagues and teachers.  As you can see, it’s been a productive year for research in our college, and there are many more deserving projects, awards, and publications that haven’t been mentioned. The work being done across the college, in all the labs, is work that has the potential to make a difference in the lives of people across the globe, and it’s research that we’re all incredibly proud of.

In the New Year and beyond, I intend to highlight more of this good work and share it broadly through my blog.  I want to hear your stories and learn about your success, so as always, please do share them with me.