Surgical professors take top honors

    Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association recognizes three professors for clinical, research and innovative excellence.

    By Lyndsey Ford on March 14, 2014

    It’s a hat-trick for the Department of Surgery with three faculty members achieving Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association Awards. Dr. Drew Sutherland was named physician of the year, Dr. Kenneth Petruk, researcher of the year and Dr. Ken Stewart, innovator of the year.

    Dr. Sutherland is an associate clinical professor in the division of general surgery, who developed Lou Gehrig’s disease early in his career. “Drew is an inspiration to us all,” said urologist and professor, Dr. Ron Moore, who nominated Sutherland for the title. “It’s easy to see beyond his limited physical ability because his mind is so sharp.” In earning the physician of the year title, Sutherland has showed excellence in clinical care, teaching and service to the profession. Moore praises Sutherland for his wise council on complex cases and exemplary pre- and post-operative patient care. He also applauds Sutherland on his devotion to resident education, which includes didactic small group teaching and formerly serving as assistant program director for the general surgery residency program. “Drew’s high functioning mind makes a significant impact in education, project management and patient care,” explained Moore. “Everyone respects him. Colleagues, residents and patients love him. He’s supportive of everyone, with his wonderful mind, witty personality and always with a smile. He simply adapted to his challenges and overcame them.”

    For neurosurgeon and clinical professor, Dr. Kenneth Petruk, an endorsement for researcher of the year came from an unlikely source: fellow nominee, Dr. Evangelos Michelakis. While Petruk came away with the honours, both gentlemen are connected via their research on a small molecule called Dichloroacetate (DCA). In 2007, Michelakis and his team discovered DCA had promising anticancer effects in preclinical models. “A burning question became how can we apply these promising findings to humans with cancer? Yet as a cardiologist, I couldn’t do this on my own,” explained Michelakis. “Then Dr. Petruk called me. He had a complete understanding of the biology and our theory, along with such enthusiasm. Offering me his time, experience, and influence, we started the challenging project of giving DCA to patients with the deadly human cancer glioblastoma.” 

    In 2010, the team published their first report on the effects of DCA in humans, showing evidence that DCA holds promise as a potential therapy for the brain tumor, glioblastoma. The report, published in the prestigious Science Translational Medicine, a journal of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, had a massive impact in the field of oncology.

    Previously, Petruk had conducted another cutting edge trial involving young patients with Parkinson’s disease. He performed a complicated two-stage surgery, transplanting an adrenal gland to the brain to provide local delivery of neurotransmitters. “This approach received a lot of attention at the time,” said Michelakis. “It was perhaps the first step towards the stem cell transplantation that is now considered in the treatment of these patients.”

    Innovator of the year, Dr. Ken Stewart, is a thoracic surgeon and associate professor, whose vision and leadership lead to the creation of the Alberta Thoracic Oncology Program (ATOP). The first of its kind in Canada, ATOP transformed existing lung cancer care services to one that provides patients with timely, coordinated and streamlined access to multidisciplinary treatment. “Dr. Stewart took a look at a situation that was fragmented and worked over five years to implement a change in practice that would improve patient care,” said respirologist Dr. Ashley Gillson, one of four to nominate Stewart. “His vision for a cost effective, centralized approach, optimally lead to this successful patient centered program.”

    Awards will be presented to all 2014 recipients at a dinner on Thursday March 20.