Jon Chase

Campus & Community

Martin wins prize for research, innovation

3 min read

Internationally renowned Canadian neuroscientist Joseph B. Martin, dean of the Harvard Faculty of Medicine, was recently named the inaugural winner of the Henry G. Friesen International Prize in Health Research. Martin, who is the Caroline Shields Walker Professor of Neurobiology and Clinical Neuroscience at Harvard, will deliver a public lecture titled “Brain Disease: Health Research Policy for the Public Good” scheduled for Sept. 26 at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

The new annual prize offers a significant cash award and is a joint initiative of Friends of Canadian Institutes of Health Research (FCIHR) and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS). The prize recognizes exceptional innovation and vision by health leaders from around the world; traits exemplified by Henry Friesen, a renowned Canadian endocrinologist, medical scientist, and visionary in health research planning.

Chosen for his creativity throughout his career, Martin was selected from among a number of the world’s most accomplished health research and health policy leaders. His contributions have included the fostering of new health service models that significantly enhance research and improve access to quality care.

“I am deeply honored by this recognition from my colleagues in Canada,” said Martin, who as a neurologist and neuroscientist led the field in pituitary hormone research at McGill University and the Montreal Neurological Institute before becoming professor at Harvard Medical School and chief of neurology at the Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1989, he was appointed dean of medicine, and then chancellor, at the University of California, San Francisco. “The universal Canadian health care system, and the many visionary pioneers who helped build it, including Dr. Henry Friesen, have been an ongoing source of inspiration, direction, and motivation for me,” Martin said.

In 1997, Martin was recruited from San Francisco back to Harvard as dean of medicine where he led the unprecedented integration of seven Harvard institutions that created a new paradigm in the approach to cancer research, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. At Harvard, he also established a cohesive virtual institute of more than 500 scientists and clinicians, many in diverse disciplines of research and clinical care, but all networked to advance teaching, research, and treatment in the area of brain disease.

“Achieving this complex collaboration among many competing agencies and health organizations was an extraordinary feat,” said Aubie Angel, president of FCIHR. “We are recognizing Joe Martin for his ability to map out new and effective systems of health research and health care delivery, but as well, his inordinate capacity to bring together the best and the brightest to work for a common goal. This collaborative model is similar to the approach taken by Dr. Friesen who was the creative force that led to the establishment of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research as well as Genome Canada.”

Martin was born in Bassano, Alberta, and received his early medical education at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Rochester in 1971. Six years later he became chair of the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University. At Martin’s public address in September, he is expected to speak on the overwhelming burden of mental illness and other debilitating brain diseases, and his vision of the shift in health care policy and practice needed to mitigate this burden. His talk will be aired subsequently on CBC Radio One.