Medical Doctor and Researcher

By Stewart Prest, submitted 2006

It’s not easy keeping up with Erik Saude. The Augustana graduate is in his final year of medical school at the University of Calgary, having already earned a PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Alberta. While completing his doctorate at the U of A, he pioneered a new medical diagnostic technique, initiated the formation of the Magnetic Resonance Diagnostic Centre, and published his findings widely.  He has a number of patents still pending with various coauthors. He’s competed nationally in both winter and summer sports (natural luge and varsity track and field, respectively).  Oh, and he became a dad last spring, when his wife Robyn gave birth to their first son Mark Raymond.

When asked about him, Erik smiles and says, “I may be biased, but he’s just about perfect.”

Still, the demands of the medical program at the University of Calgary don’t allow Erik to slow down much. “I’ve just completed a two week electives in emergency surgery and trauma medicine, and have another coming up in the intensive care unit (ICU). All three relate to helping the sickest of the sick, which is what I want to be doing.”

The connection between biochemistry and medicine is not as obvious as one might think.  In many ways, the two fields are engaged in very different projects. While the former is often concerned with ‘basic science’, or research into the way the world works at a cellular level, the latter focuses on ‘applied science’, taking previously established knowledge and using it to treat the sick and unwell.

Erik sees a clear link between the two, however. “I’m attracted to the older idea of the scientist as clinician, where the doctor really understands the theory behind the diagnosis and can defend each step of treatment, rather than just regurgitating memorized answers to the patient.”

That focus on bringing scientific understanding to bear on patient treatment shone through in his research at the U of A. He took a cutting-edge research technology called nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR), and asked a deceptively simple question: what can it do for people right now?

“NMR allows us to see what a molecule looks like in 3D space.  Most researchers working in NMR at the time were focused on purely scientific questions – what does a protein look like? What can we learn about the fundamental structure of organic compounds?  I wanted to know if the technology could be applied to diagnostic problems and used to identify various diseases. So, instead of looking at specific proteins, we looked at various non-invasive bodily fluids and found that you could detect a variety of different pathologies.”

“This kind of early identification of disease can play a huge role in successful treatment, especially in children.  For instance, if a two-year-old comes in with a cough, there is a very long list of possible causes, and diagnosis can be long and difficult process involving x-rays, drawing blood, and other invasive procedures.  If we can identify the culprit as asthma, or viral or bacterial pneumonia through NMR analysis of a non-invasive fluid like urine, that reduces the stress on the patient and their family, and makes a tremendous difference in the success of the treatment.”

Despite the heavy workload throughout his studies, Erik has tried to maintain a healthy balance between work and leisure, doing everything from competitive sports, to softball, to peer support and music. “It’s one of the reasons I chose Augustana to begin with – there was a huge latitude to remain active in the community there.”

Just now, of course, Erik’s focusing on a smaller community, one with exactly three members, and he couldn’t be happier.