Alberta's first medical school celebrates centennial year
Published Thursday, January 17, 2013 5:26PM MST
The province’s first medical school celebrated its 100th birthday on Thursday, with students, researchers and professors coming together to look back on all that was accomplished over the past century and look forward to what's to come.
The University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry began with just a small class of 27 eager medical students 100 years ago, and has since grown to accommodate thousands of students, faculty members and medical researchers.
Over the past 100 years, the medical school has helped put Edmonton on the map from testing an inexpensive drug that was found to shrink cancerous tumours in animals, to more recently, where its scientists believe they may have created the world’s first vaccine for Hepatitis C.
“In the 50s we saw after the war, the opening up of cardiovascular surgery. John Callahan was a pioneer here who made big differences. In the basic sciences we saw John Coulter recruited in biochemistry and built one of the strongest biochemistry departments anywhere in the country if not in the world,” said Dr. Lorne Tyrrell.
“I would also point out the discovery of the first antiviral to treat Hepatitis that was done in our lab is now marketed in over 200 countries worldwide and we’ve sold something like $6 billion of the drug that we worked with here. We’ve had impact internationally on some of these major discoveries.”
Tyrrell was a student of the school back in 1964 and says it is unbelievable how medicine has changed over the years, with many patients living longer, fuller lives after surgeries and treatment.
“Remarkable changes,” Tyyrell said.
Looking to the future, Tyyrell believes medical education should be a priority and will lead to cures.
“I would look to the future and say that we will see almost all cancers treated and cured by 2025 because of the discovery of basic reach, finding specific targets and how we will be able to treat them,” he said.
“The evolution of new diseases, since I’ve been in medicine 40 years, we’ve averaged in infectious diseases one new disease a year. Hepatitis C, hepatitis B, HIV, AIDS, SARS, these are major diseases that were unknown when I went through medical school and it stresses the importance of continuing medical education.”
Fourteen-year-old Tom Hamilton-Lane lives with Type 1 diabetes, and hopes Tyyrell’s predictions are right.
Hamilton-Lane isn’t a student of the school, but says he has great respect for those who are, and is grateful for work being done on Type 1 diabetes.
“It actually means a lot. I’m very grateful,” Hamilton-Lane said.
“I believe there will be a cure.”
Hamilton’s grandfather donated $1 million to help develop the Alberta Diabetes Institute, which is now home to the Edmonton Protocol, where islet cells are harvested from the pancreas and transplanted in to diabetic patients, allowing many to live without insulin.
The Hamilton family says they also have big dreams as they think of what students and researchers at the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry can accomplish over the next 100 years, and hope finding a cure to diabetes is one of those accomplishments.
“It’s a fabulous asset for both the city and the province of Alberta. I really hope that for the next 100 years that we can be celebrating even more successes and hopefully one of those successes will be a cure for diabetes right here in Edmonton,” said Lynn Hamilton.
Recently the faculty was ranked one of the Top 50 medical schools in the world.
Thursday's celebration marks the first of a number of events planned to celebrate the school's 100th birthday.
With files from Carmen Leibel