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Researcher inducted into Canadian Academy of Health Sciences

By Sharon Gray | Sept. 19, 2014

Dr. Thomas Michalak, a prominent researcher in the Faculty of Medicine, was inducted as a fellow in the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS) on Sept. 18. Election to fellowship in the CAHS is considered one of the highest honours for individuals in the Canadian health sciences community and carries with it an agreement to serve the academy and the future well-being of the health sciences.

Dr. Thomas Michalak
Dr. Michalak is an international authority in the field of viral hepatitis and liver diseases. Since 2001 he has been the Senior (Tier 1) Canada Research Chair in Viral Hepatitis and Immunology at Memorial. His groundbreaking discoveries have changed fundamental concepts about the nature of hepatitis B and C viral infections, which affect more than half a billion people globally and have a direct impact on the safety of Canada’s blood supply and organ transplantation.

“He has implemented a creative, innovative and vibrant program which has used solid research to correct opposing paradigms and establish a new genre in the field of viral hepatitis and hepatology – occult persistent infections,” wrote Dr. James Rourke, dean, Faculty of Medicine, in his letter of nomination. “His lab was the first to report the existence of this form of hepatitis C viral infection in which the virus replicated at low levels both in the liver and in the host’s immune system for years.”

In 1985 Dr. Michalak realized the outstanding benefits of using the woodchuck animal model for hepatitis B viral research. He has established one of the top research facilities in the world using woodchucks infected with WHV (woodchuck hepatitis virus), which has provided many significant findings.

In recent years, one of the most important contributions of Dr. Michalak’s was the characterization of occult hepatitis C viral persistence in individuals whose disease was thought to be resolved either spontaneously or after antiviral therapy. His group was the first to report, in 2004, the existence of this form of hepatitis C viral infection, suggesting that the hepatitis C virus is a chronic condition and that it may persist despite the absence of clinical symptoms, biochemical evidence of liver injury or detection by routinely available clinical laboratory tests.

Dr. Michalak is also recognized for his roles in national and international non-profit and professional organizations and in the education of young scientists and health professionals.

“This is a great honour for Dr. Michalak and for the Faculty of Medicine,” said Dr. Rourke. “Last year two members of our Faculty of Medicine – Dr. Jane Green and Dr. Proton Rahman – were inducted as fellows in the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. I am so proud of the work that each of our CAHS’s inductees have done that has earned them this significant national recognition.”

Dr. Michalak’s contributions have been previously recognized with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and the 2012 Top 4 in Science and the 2013 Top in Education by the International Top 100 Magazine.