Two members of the Child & Family Research Institute — David Speert, a Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, and Jan Friedman, a Professor in the Department of Medical Genetics — have received the Distinguished Medical Research Lecturer Awards from the Faculty of Medicine.
Candidates from basic sciences or clinical sciences are nominated by faculty members on the basis of a distinguished research career, recognition in the medical community and effective contributions to student educational growth over the past year. Nominees are selected by the Faculty’s Research Council. Acceptance of this award is accompanied by a guest seminar open to all faculty members and students as a part of the “Leaders in Medical Discovery” series.
Dr. Speert’s research focuses on the human innate immune system and the control of inflammation in health and disease, including inflammatory determinants in both pathogen and host. He heads the Centre for Understanding and Preventing Infection in Children at the Child & Family Research Insitute, which was funded by a Canada Foundation for Innovation grant to Dr. Speert, with additional funds from the Mining for Miracles charity, which enabled construction of a containment level 3 laboratory where studies on tuberculosis and other highly virulent infections are currently underway. His group identified a number of bacterial and host factors that conspire to create an environment in the lungs of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients which favors infection with bacteria. Dr. Speert clinically tested a new drug for CF patients to enhance mucociliary clearance, which progressed to phase II human clinical testing. His group also was one of the first in North America to identify a mutation in IRAK4, a central protein in the Toll-like receptor pathway of the innate immune system, which resulted in an exceptionally enhanced susceptibility to Gram-positive bacterial infections in a young child. In 2007, Dr. Speert initiated an international collaboration in South Africa, supported by the Martha Piper Fund and Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at UBC, to study children born to, but not infected by, mothers who are HIV-positive, as these children experience severe infections during the first year of life. Dr. Speert’s research has been funded continuously from agencies such as CIHR, CFI, Cystic Fibrosis Canada, BC Lung Association, BC Children’s Hospital Foundation and several pharmaceutical companies.
Dr. Speert was recruited to the Department of Pediatrics as an Assistant Professor in 1980 and promoted to Associate Professor (1985) and then a Professor (1990). Dr. Speert was appointed as the Head, Division of Infectious and Immunological Diseases (1991-2010) and has been the Associate Director, Centre for Microbial Diseases Research since 1998.
In 2003, Dr. Speert was the first Dean of the highly successful CFRI Mini Med School, which hosts 4-6 weeks of research-focused evenings directed at high school students and the general public. His success in engaging these audiences set the stage for the 11 subsequent Mini Med Schools. He serves as a member on several committees at UBC and societies such as the International Burkholderia cepacia Working Group and Canadian Pediatric Society. Dr. Speert received the Ivory Tower Award presented by UBC Pediatric Residents for Teaching (2001 and 2007), Sauder Family Chair, UBC (2007) and the 2008 Dawn Green Volunteer Award by the BC Association of Cystic Fibrosis Canada. Dr. Speert has published more than 175 refereed papers and 26 book chapters, holds 5 patents, and has written 30 reports and consensus statements for the Canadian Pediatric Society. He also serves as a reviewer for many journals and funding agencies including MSFHR, CIHR and Cystic Fibrosis Canada. Dr. Speert has delivered over 80 invited keynote addresses and presentations nationally and internationally. As a UBC faculty member, Dr. Speert has trained over 40 students and post-doctoral fellows.
Dr. Friedman’s research has led to seminal advances in improving the diagnosis of neurofibromatosis (NF) by enumerating the complex and variable spectrum of its clinical features, and in formulating recommendations for genetic and clinical diagnosis that have led to enhanced standards of patient care. His key research discoveries of novel molecular and cellular hallmarks that distinguish types of neurofibromas, benign tumours that typically arise in these patients, are providing new insights into the pathogenesis and progression of NF. In the past decade, Dr. Friedman has been a pioneer in the development and application of cytogenetic and genomic tools to understand the genetic causes and clinical consequences, and improve diagnosis of intellectual disability syndromes. Dr. Friedman is also a recognized expert in teratology, with his recent focus on determining the risk for birth defects arising from maternal anti‐depressant use during pregnancy which provides critical information that is essential for the development of regulatory guidelines for these medications.
Dr. Friedman has received steady funding from many agencies, including the National NF Foundation, BC Health Care Research Foundation, Shriners’ Hospitals, CIHR and NIH. Dr. Friedman is the leader of the CFI national project “Canadian Molecular Cytogenetics Platform” and co‐leader of the BC Clinical Genomics Network (MSFHR funding) and the Genome Canada project “Finding of Rare Disease Genes in Canada”. These research consortia bring together clinicians and scientists to focus on using genomics technologies to solve problems in clinical genetics. Dr. Friedman played an instrumental role in the creation of the National NF Foundation database and the NF1 Mutation and NF2 Mutation databases. He has published more than 220 peer-reviewed papers and numerous articles, book chapters and reports. He is on the editorial boards of several high impact journals, played executive leadership roles in the Association of Professors of Human and Medical Genetics and the Canadian College of Medical Geneticists and has been a member of key committees of the CIHR Institute of Genetics and Genome BC. Over the past 10 years, he has given more than 50 invited presentations. He is a member of the Medical/Clinical Genetics Examination Committee of both the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the American Board of Medical Genetics.
Dr. Friedman was recruited in 1986 as an Associate Professor and promoted to a Professor in the Department of Medical Genetics in 1989. Dr. Friedman was the Head, Medical Genetics (1992-1999) and has been the acting Associate Dean, Research, in the Faculty of Medicine, and acting Executive Director at the Child & Family Research Institute since 2010. As a UBC faculty member, Dr. Friedman has trained numerous medical students, graduate students, fellows and clinicians, has taught several post-graduate courses at UBC since 1986, was a member of the Dean’s Task Force on Undergraduate MD Curriculum Renewal (2009‐2010), has participated in many committees and strategic advisory groups at UBC and has won 15 awards for his research and several teaching awards, including the National NF Foundation Center of Excellence Award (2001) and a UBC Killam Teaching Award (2010).