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Professors receive national honour

By Kelly Foss and Sharon Gray | Sept. 21, 2009

In another first for Memorial, the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) has named two University Research Professors to the society. Dr. Sean Brosnan, former head of the Department of Biochemistry in the Faculty of Science, and Dr. Patrick Parfrey, Faculty of Medicine, will be inducted at a ceremony in Ottawa on Nov. 28. This marks the first time professors from biochemistry and medicine at Memorial have been named to the RSC.

Drs. Brosnan and Parfrey have a long history at Memorial and have known each other for years – they even attended the same university in Ireland. Dr. Parfrey earned his M.B. (medical degree) at University College, Cork, while Dr. Brosnan did his B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Ireland and his D. Phil. at Oxford. Dr. Brosnan joined the Department of Biochemistry in 1972 and is cross-appointed to the Faculty of Medicine; Dr. Parfrey joined the Faculty of Medicine in 1984.

The accomplishments of the two men during their careers at Memorial would fill several books. Both have a long list of research accomplishments, publications and honours. Both have devoted themselves to training graduate students and both have strong spousal partnerships. Dr. Brosnan has collaborated with his wife, Dr. Margaret Brosnan, on research on the functional organization of the liver. Dr. Parfrey’s wife, Dr. Benvon Cramer, is chair of the Discipline of Radiology in the Faculty of Medicine. 

So what does this latest honour mean? “This is certainly an honour to me, but it also reflects the people I’ve worked with in the lab for the past 40 years,” said Dr. Brosnan. “My wife, Margaret, has been part of the team for the past 25 years and I had a fantastic research assistant, Beatrice Hall. Grad students, undergraduate students, post docs – they’ve all made their contribution. Without the team there is nothing.”

Dr. Parfrey is also quick to give credit to the people he works with. “Drs. Brendan Barrett, John Harnett and Rob Foley are wonderful colleagues with whom I still work, and our research teams comprise excellent people including Drs. Elizabeth Dicks and Deborah Gregory, and Elizabeth Hatfield. With other co-investigators, including Drs. Terry-Lynn Young, Mike Woods, Daryl Pullman and Jane Green, the very new field of genetics and genomics is moving ahead in Newfoundland and Labrador with the overall objective of improving health outcomes in the community.”

As a researcher, Dr. Brosnan’s work covers a broad canvas. He studies the conversion of amino acids to glucose in diabetes (which raises blood glucose levels), the role of amino acids in the function of folic acid and vitamin B12, the use of amino acids by the body to synthesize creatine (the same substance that is used by athletes to increase their strength) and the utility of amino acids in the preservation of organs for transplantation.

As a medical doctor, Dr. Parfrey is an expert in kidney disease and serves as a staff nephrologist with Eastern Health. He is also a clinical epidemiologist who heads up research teams in three major areas: clinical epidemiology in nephrology, the clinical and genetic epidemiology of inherited diseases and health care delivery research. In the health care delivery area he has established partnerships with the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Health to evaluate restructuring in acute care hospitals, needs for long-term care beds, and needs for coronary revascularization and utilization of new drugs. He heads up the Interdisciplinary Research Team in Human Genetics, which last year obtained a large grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation to establish a genetic research centre at Memorial University.

The RSC elects members from all branches of learning who have achieved national and international recognition by publishing learned works or original research in the arts, humanities and sciences. Founded in 1882, the country’s oldest scholarly organization currently has about 1,800 fellows.

The two Memorial fellows will be inducted into the Royal Society’s ranks at a ceremony on Nov. 28.  More information can be found at www.mun.ca/honours/research/recognition.php.


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