Giants of Biomedical Science
June 27, 2006
Good afternoon and welcome to the University of Toronto and the magnificent Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research.
A special welcome to Dr. Carolyn Bennet, Dr. David Bogart (OIT), Dr. Kenneth Knox (OIT) and Members of Governing Council.
It is my very great honour to host this afternoon’s proceedings with my colleague, Professor Catharine Whiteside.
Seven months ago, we gathered in this same spot to celebrate the opening of the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research. That was a splendid occasion, and many of us left with sore necks from gazing around and above us at this extraordinary structure.
In November we delighted in the beauty of the building. Today we focus on the brilliant minds who will work within its walls, and those who preceded them in the annals of the University of Toronto.
Let me begin by introducing our illustrious platform guests. Please hold your applause until all have been named:
Professor Catharine Whiteside, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Vice-Provost, Relations with Health Care Institutions
Professor Peter Lewis, Vice-Dean, Research, Faculty of Medicine
And of course our honourees and those representing them:
Representing Sir Frederick Banting, Professor James Friesen, Past Chair of the Banting and Best Department of Medical Research
Representing Dr. Charles Best, his granddaughter Professor Mairi Best
Representing Dr. Wilfred Bigelow, his daughter, Mrs. Pixie Bigelow Currie
Dr. George Connell
Representing Dr. Maud Menten, Professor Marian Packham
Dr. Fraser Mustard
Representing Dr. Vera Peters, her daughters Ms. Sandy Clark and Dr. Jennifer Ingram
Dr. Robert Salter
Dr. Lou Siminovitch, and
Dr. Lap-Chee Tsui.
It’s is now my great pleasure to introduce Dean Cathy Whiteside, to tell you a little bit more about the concept behind today’s event. Cathy . . .
My congratulations to Jim and Cecil. Being on the receiving end of your quiet determination to push this project forward, I can attest to your role in its achievement!
There is another person here today one of the giants in Canadian health research philanthropy, Dr. Terrence Donnelly, lawyer and philanthropist, and the namesake of this building. Terry please stand and be recognized… Terry, thank you for working so hard with us in creating this important day.
And now, we turn our attention to the Giants of Biomedical Science Hall and today’s honourees. Each of the ten is represented in a magnificent bronze sculpture mounted on the landing immediately below where you’re sitting today.
The sculpture, which will be unveiled at the end of today’s proceedings, was created by Veronica De Nogales Leprevost and Edwin Timothy Dam of Dam De Nogales Sculptors.
Dam De Nogales is also responsible for the beautiful and inspiring piece that stands in front of the building – the Spirit of Discovery. It has quickly become an icon, as you may have noticed on the invitations you received for today’s event. Veronica and Edwin are with us today. Please stand and be recognized. [applause…]
Each Giant is also honoured through the naming of one floor of the Donnelly CCBR. On each floor a museum-quality display board will provide information about her or his remarkable career and achievements. These boards, which stand behind us on the platform, will also be unveiled this afternoon.
Over the next few minutes, Dean Whiteside and I will read summaries based on the boards, then introduce the honourees or their representatives, who will address us briefly.
I think you will find this a fascinating journey through the history of biomedical science in Canada. You will meet a group of exceptional women and men – some very familiar, some deserving to be better known.
Our first honouree, proceeding in alphabetical order, is…
Sir Frederick Banting, whose co-discovery of insulin changed the face of medicine around the world. Banting graduated from the University of Toronto in 1912, and served in World War One, where he was wounded and awarded the Military Cross.
While working as a doctor in London Ontario, he had the idea that led to the development of a pancreatic extract to treat diabetes. Professor J.J.R. Macleod, Chair of Physiology at the University of Toronto, gave him lab space and offered him the assistance of Charles Best, a recent graduate in physiology and biochemistry.
The two men proved Banting’s idea when the extract from a ligated pancreas caused a dramatic reduction in the blood sugar levels of a diabetic dog. The first successful test of insulin on a human with diabetes occurred on January 23, 1922, and the rest, it can truly be said, is history.
Dr. Banting received the Nobel Prize jointly with Dr. Macleod in 1923. He was knighted in 1934. He went on to serve as Chair of the Banting and Best Department of Medical Research. He died while on active service during World War II.
I am very pleased to invite Professor James Friesen forward to speak about Sir Frederick Banting.
Thank you, Prof. Best
Our third honoree is Dr. Wilfred Gordon Bigelow, the father of cardiac surgery in Canada. Bill Bigelow grew up in Manitoba, the son of a doctor and a midwife. After completing his MD at the University of Toronto in 1938 he studied under Dr. William Gallie at Toronto General Hospital. After amputating a young man’s frostbitten fingers, he became interested in the effects of hypothermia and Dr. Gallie encouraged him to pursue his interest.
Dr. Bigelow served as a frontline surgeon during World War II, and then spent a year studying with Dr. Alfred Blalock, a pioneer in cardiac surgery. It was during this time that he developed the idea of using hypothermia to stop the heart and allow it to be opened and operated on.
Back in Toronto, he established a laboratory and in 1949 performed the first open heart surgery on a dog using hypothermia to stop the heart. This led to the first open heart surgery in humans in 1953.
Dr. Bigelow and his colleagues were also responsible for the development of the first external pacemaker. He also provided strong leadership to the cardiovascular surgical division of Toronto General Hospital and the cardiovascular surgical training program at U of T until his retirement in 1977.
Dr. Bigelow was a strong proponent of the mind-body connection in health care, and spent many hours with his patients before surgery, helping to prepare them and relieve their anxieties. In retirement, he wrote two wonderful books of medical history, Cold Hearts and Mysterious Heparin.
Today, I’m very pleased to introduce Dr. Bigelow’s daughter, Pixie Bigelow Currie, to speak on his behalf.
Thank you, Dr. Connell
It is a special pleasure for me to introduce our next honouree, a woman who simply refused to accept no in her pursuit of a career in science.
Maud Menten graduated from the University of Toronto in 1911, one of the first women to receive an MD. In 1912 she traveled to Germany to work with Leonor Michaelis, a biochemist who studied the behaviour of enzymes.
Together they developed the Michaelis-Menten equation, still used for determining the rate of an enzyme reaction. Dr. Menten returned from Germany and completed a PhD at the University of Chicago. Unable to work as a scientist in Canada, Dr. Menten took a position with the Department of Pathology at the University of Pittsburgh, where she worked until 1950. Her contributions include the co-discovery of the azo-dye coupling reaction for alkaline phosopatase, and the first use of electrophoresis to study human hemoglobins.
Dr. Menten also worked as a clinical pathologist at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where she strove to find cures for childhood illnesses. After her retirement, she joined the British Columbia Medical Research Institute, where she worked until age 75.
It is my great pleasure to welcome Dr. Marian Packham, a distinguished scientist in her own right and an historian of the Department of Biochemistry with a special interest in Dr. Menten’s career.
[Professor Marian Packham speaks, followed by Catherine Whiteside, followed by Fraser Mustard]
Thank you, Dr. Mustard
Our next honouree was a woman of grace and style who changed the face of treatment for two forms of cancer, and ultimately touched, and saved, many lives.
Dr. Vera Peters graduated with an MD from the University of Toronto in 1934, then apprenticed as a radiologist with Dr. Gordon Richards. She joined the Department of Radiology at Toronto General Hospital and in 1958 became a founding staff member at Princess Margaret Hospital.
Dr. Peters helped develop an effective radiation treatment for Hodgkin’s Disease, then universally fatal. Her targeted and conservative approach eventually became the accepted standard.
In the treatment of breast cancer, she was acutely aware of the impact of radical mastectomy on patients, and advocated the use of conservative lumpectomy and radiation. Although opposed by many in the medical establishment, she eventually proved that her method offered as good and perhaps better long-term outcomes.
Compassionate and empathetic, Dr. Peters had a deep understanding of the human dimension of disease, and a strong commitment to treating each patient as an individual.
It is an honour to introduce Dr. Jennifer Ingram, also a graduate of our medical school, to speak on behalf of her mother.
Thank you, Dr. Salter
Our next honouree is a true leader in science – a man with a unique talent to see where the opportunities lie and bring people together around them.
Dr. Lou Siminovitch graduated with a PhD from McGill University in 1937 and promptly decided that biology offered a more interesting career. He did his biology training “on the job” at the prestigious Institut Pasteur in Paris, where he made significant contributions to bacterial and viral genetics. After further postdoctoral work at the Connaught Medical Laboratory, he joined the newly created Ontario Cancer Institute and soon became the Director of its Biology Division.
He continued to work with bacterial and viral genetics, collaborated with Drs Till and McCulloch in their work on stem cells, and helped develop the new field of somatic cell genetics. In 1966 he became head of the new Department of Medical Cell Biology, later the Department of Medical Genetics, at the University of Toronto.
In 1985, he became the first Director of Research of the new Mount Sinai Hospital Research Institute, later the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, quickly establishing it as a world-renowned institution. An influential mentor and teacher, Dr. Siminovitch has also advised a wide variety of national and international health-related organizations.
Please welcome Dr. Lou Siminovitch.
[Professor Lou Siminovitch speaks, followed by Catherine Whiteside, followed by Lap-Chee Tsui]
Thank you Dr. Tsui.
Please join me in recognizing each of our giants of biomedical science. On their shoulders stand the researchers of the Donnelly CCBR, and this great University.
The moment has arrived. I will now ask the honourees and the platform party to join me on the landing to unveil the Giants of Biomedical Science sculpture.
As the space on the landing is very limited, but please take this opportunity to view the display boards and enjoy the refreshments at the back of the room, then admire the sculpture at your leisure during the remainder of the reception.
We have prepared a commemorative booklet using the display material prepared for the display boards. Our staff will be handing out these booklets. I know you will enjoy reading through all of this material.
My sincere thanks to all those who have played a role in creating the Giants of Biomedical Science Hall, to those of you have gathered to honour these exceptional women and men, and of course, to our honourees and their families, who have made U of T the world leader that it is today.
Thank you. Please enjoy the remainder of the afternoon with us!
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