The Killam legacy: Supporting scholarship and discovery at UAlberta

UAlberta hosts annual Killam Day celebration to honour 37 award-winning faculty, graduate students and post-docs.


World-renowned virologist Lorne Tyrrell, winner of the 2015 Killam Prize for Health Sciences, is one of the 37 outstanding researchers and students being honoured on Killam Day.

Innovator. Mentor. Officer of the Order of Canada. Medical hall of famer. All can be used to describe the remarkable career of Lorne Tyrrell and his life-saving contributions to viral hepatitis research.

Add Killam laureate to the mix.

Tyrrell, a professor in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry and director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, was recognized for his groundbreaking work in virology research when this past spring he was awarded the 2015 Killam Prize for Health Sciences. Today, the campus community celebrated his accomplishments—and those of 36 other Killam award recipients—at the U of A’s annual Killam Day luncheon.

“There’s a dignity and humility about his mission in life. He’ll go out of his way to help the janitor just as much as he will to help the chancellor of the university. That’s the kind of person he is,” said Michael Houghton, a close colleague of Tyrrell’s and Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology.

“If you have that attitude to life, as well as being an outstanding researcher and a dedicated, skilled clinician, and a brilliant teacher, you’re going to end up getting the Killam Prize.”

Killam Award winners for 2015

Killam Prize for Health Sciences

Lorne Tyrrell, Medical Microbiology and Immunology

Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship

Zaid Hussein Alma’ayah, Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical SciencesSharon Dorothy Anderson, Human EcologyMustafa Ege Babadagli, Mechanical EngineeringSarah Marie Woods Bezan, English and Film StudiesHelena Satu Neelam Dayal, Educational PsychologyMohamed Maged Elsalhy, DentistryAmin Ghazanfari, Electrical and Computer EngineeringHeather Dawn Green, History and ClassicsVictor Manuel Guana Garces, Computing ScienceJennifer Gene Klutsch, Renewable ResourcesErin Diane Lewis, Agricultural, Food and Nutritional ScienceChao Li, Civil and Environmental EngineeringDavid Wai Lim, SurgeryYanna Liu, Laboratory Medicine and PathologyMelanie W Lui, ChemistryJavier Luque, Biological SciencesLisa Martin, Agricultural, Food and Nutritional SciencePawel Mekarski, PhysicsTetsuto Miyashita, Biological SciencesKatherine Cora Neely, Physical Educaiton and RecreationDeepak Paramashivan, MusicMuna Hussein Saleh, Elementary EducationTamara Gayle Sorenson Duncan, LinguisticsKelly Simone Struthers Montford, SociologyBreanne Darlene Tidemann, Agricultural, Food and Nutritional ScienceEugene Yip, OncologyKirby Ann Ziegler, Oncology

Dorothy J. Killam Memorial Graduate Prizes

Sharon Dorothy Anderson, Human EcologyJennifer Gene Klutsch, Renewable ResourcesMelanie W Lui, ChemistryEugene Yip, Oncology

Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Postdoctoral Fellowships

Michael Patrick Boone, ChemistryPierre-Luc Chagnon, Biological SciencesSpencer Morrison, English and Film StudiesFaria Sana, Psychology

Dorothy J. Killam Memorial Postdoctoral Fellow

Faria Sana, Psychology

Killam Award for Excellence in Mentoring

Frederick West, Chemistry

Killam Annual Professorships

Jie Chen, Electrical and Computer EngineeringJohn Considine, English and Film StudiesJanet Elliott, Chemical and Materials EngineeringKurt Konhauser, Earth and Atmospheric SciencesFinlay McAlister, Medicine

Tyrrell’s innovative work in hepatitis research started in the early 1980s and in collaboration with former U of A chemistry professor Morris Robins. Their efforts led to the development of a new generation of drugs to treat hepatitis B, a virus that can cause liver disease, cancer and even death. Their end product, a drug called lamivudine developed with support from GlaxoSmithKline, has been shown to inhibit the virus in nearly 100 per cent of patients and is licensed around the world.

Tyrrell estimates one-third of the world’s population has been infected with hepatitis B, and that 350 million to 450 million people are chronic carriers of the virus.

“[Lamivudine] has saved hundreds of thousands of lives, probably more than that. It’s probably saved millions of lives,” explained Houghton.

Tyrrell has since turned his attention to hepatitis C, making significant breakthroughs and paving the way for other innovators such as Houghton. The pair are now collaborating in developing a vaccine for hepatitis C, a disease that causes as many as 500,000 deaths a year.

After a 30-year career that includes being named to the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, Tyrrell says he still gets a thrill from breaking new ground.

“The excitement of research is that it takes some time, but once you get to the forefront of where knowledge is in your field, you realize that you’re discovering new knowledge that no one else has ever seen, and that is thrilling.”

Killam Day at the U of A

Tyrrell’s $100,000 Killam Prize is one of five awards given annually by the Canada Council for the Arts’ Killam Program, in support of scholars of exceptional ability engaged in research projects of outstanding merit in the areas of health sciences, engineering, natural sciences, social sciences and humanities.

The Killam Prize is part of a 50-year legacy of investment and development of Canadian research that started with Izaak and Dorothy Killam. After Dorothy’s death in 1965, 10 years after her husband, she bequeathed in her will the creation of the Killam Trusts “to help in the building of Canada’s future by encouraging advanced study.”

The Killam Trusts went to five Canadian universities: University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University, Dalhousie University and the U of A. Since the Killam endowments were created in 1967, more than $116 million has gone to support U of A teaching and research.

The campus community and Killam Trustees gathered Oct. 19 to celebrate the university’s 36 new Killam award recipients—professors, doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows, who represent the breadth of disciplines and research excellence at the U of A, says Lorne Babiuk, vice-president of research.

“The Killam Trust awards, dating from 1967, have provided crucial funding for the hundreds of laureates from the U of A who have advanced their fields, made discoveries of life-changing importance to Canadians and contributed to improving society,” said Babiuk. “I know that this year's Killam award recipients will continue to do us proud and carry on this important tradition, honouring the legacy that started with the remarkable vision of Izaak and Dorothy Killam.”

From improving dental care to questioning animal agriculture

Dentistry graduate student Mohamed Elsalhy is among the 27 recipients of the Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship, a two-year award that comes with a $35,000 annual stipend. Elsalhy is developing a new tooth-decay index for children to accurately predict treatment needs, at the right time.

“Having a reliable and reproducible measure of [decay] severity will improve reporting and monitoring and assist in evaluating oral health promotion and prevention interventions more accurately,” he said. “This will also help in developing preventive programs to improve the quality of life of children, especially for those without access to dental care.”

Another Killam Scholarship winner, sociology PhD student Kelly Struthers Montford, is exploring a number of research pursuits, including meat-eating culture and the socio-politics of veganism. Her dissertation research investigates the role of food safety laws and alimentary normalization.

Struthers Montford says food safety legislation normalizes the presence of foodborne pathogens in meat and only manages risk rather than addressing human consumption of animals and animal agriculture that produce these risks. Her research looks at the legal history of government reaction to animal-contagious diseases.

“I’m interested in food safety because it hasn’t been researched in relation to animal ethics or veganism,” she said. “Even if you don’t care about the planet, or animals, or how slaughterhouse workers are exploited, even if you don’t care about the social consequences of animal agriculture, you might be concerned about your own safety.

Killam Day was co-hosted by President David Turpin; Glen Baker, associate vice-president of research; and Heather Zwicker, dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research.