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A trailblazer in the study and treatment of lupus, a leading radiation and tumour biology researcher, and a pioneering vascular surgeon are the recipients of the 2023 UHN Global Impact Award.
Dr. Murray Urowitz, who retired from UHN's Schroeder Arthritis Institute at Toronto Western Hospital in 2022; the late Dr. Richard (Dick) Hill, whose long history at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre began in the 1960s; and the late Dr. Wayne Johnston, a longtime surgeon at UHN's Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, were recognized on Wednesday, Nov. 8 in a ceremony at the Michener Institute of Education at UHN.
Dr. Brad Wouters, UHN's Executive Vice President of Science and Research, said since its inception in 2004, the Global Impact Award has honoured "a real who's who of giants in the field of medical research." That group includes Dr. Frederick Banting, a driving force in the discovery of insulin, Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch, who discovered the stem cell, Dr. Mary Gospodarowicz, a pioneer in precision radiotherapy cancer treatment and Dr. Diana Schatz, founder of the Michener Institute.
"Today, we are proud to honour three UHN scientists by adding them to this impressive list," Dr. Wouters said. "Each one is leaving a profound legacy of advancing new treatments and medical discovery – and together they reflect the amazing range and ability of the more than 1,200 researchers and clinician scientists at UHN who day in, day out are relentless in their pursuit of pushing the boundaries of discovery in service of our patients."
Dr. Urowitz made immense contributions to our understanding of the complex and life-threatening chronic autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and how patients are treated and the way the disease is managed, resulting in patients living longer with a better quality of life. He discovered the increased cardiovascular mortality and steroid-related long-term consequences in patients with SLE.
Dr. Urowitz founded Canada's first Lupus Clinic in 1970 at the former Wellesley Hospital, relocating it to Toronto Western Hospital in the mid-1990s, where it still operates. He also led development of the first and largest lupus database in North America.
"Dr. Urowitz is a truly remarkable physician with a distinguished and impactful career," Dr. Nigil Haroon, Head of the Division of Rheumatology at UHN and Sinai Health, and a Senior Scientist at UHN's Krembil Research Institute and UHN's Schroeder Arthritis Institute, wrote in a letter of nomination.
"His work has put Toronto and UHN on the map, and his contributions to research and education will continue to serve patients around the world through excellent and appropriate care."
Dr. Urowitz called the award "gratifying and at the same time humbling.
"To be included in the company of the current and the past winners is truly an honour," he told the audience, which included Judy, his wife of 60 years, and other members of his family.
Dr. Urowitz said he was "truly blessed" to have worked with an incredibly talented and dedicated array of clinician researchers, research fellows, clinic and research managers and support staff over the years.
He also paid tribute to Dr. Dafna Gladman, Senior Scientist at UHN's Krembil Research Institute, a key colleague for more than four decades, “with whom I share all of these accomplishments.
"I wish all researchers such a brilliant, helpful, innovative collaborator."
Dr. Hill's long and productive career at the Princess Margaret had an enormous impact on the field of cancer biology and the academic life of the institute. He made multiple paradigm changing discoveries related to the biology of malignant and normal cells, and their response to radiation treatment.
Dr. Hill also trained generations of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers who became international leaders in radiation oncology. His contribution to the field also included co-authoring the key textbook –
The Basic Science of Oncology – which has been lauded as the "bible" for oncology study, sold tens of thousands of copies worldwide and been translated into a number of languages.
"He was a valued mentor to colleagues and trainees," Dr. Aaron Schimmer, Research Director at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, wrote in his nomination letter.
"He received the inaugural mentorship award from the Princess Margaret that now bears his name. The Dick Hill Mentorship award is provided annually to a faculty member that demonstrates excellence in supporting, training and mentoring the next generation of health professionals."
Dr. Hill passed away in 2021. His wife, Lyndel, and son, Peter, accepted the award on his behalf.
"While my dad never sought recognition for anything he did in his life, he was a very selfless man," Peter Hill said, "he'd be very pleased to receive this award mostly because of what it means to have a lifetime of achievement and a global impact for the work that he has done, and in particular from this institution where he started his career over 50 years ago."
Dr. Johnston was one of Canada's preeminent and gifted academic surgeons, a visionary leader, educator and researcher who was a tireless advocate for his chosen field of vascular surgery. One of his key discoveries was the use of balloons to treat patients with narrowed leg arteries, a procedure that cured disabling pain, prevented countless amputations and remains the global standard of care.
"He cared for his patients with kindness and compassion," Dr. Barry Rubin, Medical Director of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and a surgical fellow under Dr. Johnston, wrote in a letter of nomination. "His surgical skills were outstanding and always carefully applied, and he was a patient teacher of surgical technique to a large cohort of residents and fellows.
"Dr. Johnston had a positive and transformative impact on the specialty of vascular surgery in Toronto, across Canada and around the world, and improved the lives of countless patients with vascular disease."
Dr. Johnston passed away in June of this year. His family asked Dr. Tom Forbes, UHN's Surgeon-in-Chief, to accept the award on their behalf.
"We are humbled and without adequate words to express the debt of our pride for our father and his life's work in vascular surgery," said Dr. Forbes, reading a note from Dr. Johnston's children. "We thank UHN for this great honour and providing us with a treasured opportunity to reflect on our father's far reaching professional and personal legacy."
Dr. Hugh Scully, a UHN Global Impact Award winner in 2022, was also on hand Wednesday to receive his award, which recognized him “for advancing the field of cardiac surgery, for medical leadership and for the development of international safety standards in motorsport."
"This is peer recognition from the best hospital in Canada and one of the top five in the world," Dr. Scully said. "And, there's no higher praise that any of us on the staff can realize in that connection."
Previous recipients of the UHN Global Impact Award are: