Origins of Western University and Teaching of Biochemistry
Western University (formerly "The University of Western Ontario") was founded in 1878 by Bishop Isaac Hellmuth as "The Western University at London Ontario." Even though classes in the Medical Faculty began in October, 1882, the London Medical College was actually built in 1888 at the corner of York and Waterloo Streets.
Professor James H. Bowman was appointed the first Professor of Theoretical Chemistry in the Medical Faculty. He was a Director of a local London firm, "Canada Chemical Company." Professor Bowman tutored students in medical aspects of chemistry after business hours, until he retired from his firm in 1900. He continued to devote his full energies to teaching until 1912. In those days, Practical Chemistry was taught in a weekly laboratory course by a father and son team, William and William Jr. Saunders. They were associated with the Saunders Drug and Chemical Company of London. In 1914, the teaching of physiological chemistry, metabolism, and nutrition, as well as materia medica, was taught by Dr. J. W. Crane of the Department of Pharmacology.
Dr. E.G. Young was the first person with the designated title of Biochemist. His appointment in the Department of Pharmacology in 1921 coincided with the occupancy of a new Medical School Building located on South Street, across the road from Victoria Hospital. A new university campus was built in 1923 to house the Faculties of Arts and Sciences on the site of the Kingsmill farm, some three miles north of the Medical School. The two campuses remained separated for the next forty years. In 1923, the name of the University was formally changed to "The University of Western Ontario." The current name of the University was re-branded in 2012 to "Western University."
The Department of Biochemistry was established in 1924. Dr. Bruce Macallum was appointed as Professor and Head of the Department. He established a research laboratory with special interests in carbohydrate metabolism. Professor Macallum served as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine from 1927 to 1934, while continuing as Head of Biochemistry. He maintained this position until 1947, when he became Research Professor, and retired in 1954.
During this period, Dr. Watson was appointed as the first Professor of Pathological Chemistry in 1934, with specialty in metabolic disorders, particularly diabetes. During World War II, Drs. H. A. (Tony) DeLuca and John Dewan assisted in Medical Biochemistry teaching. Dr. DeLuca was instrumental in establishing the use of radioisotopes, both in research and in a clinical setting at Victoria Hospital. Dr. Fred C. Heagy furthered this development and expanded its clinical applications in the post-war years.
Dr. Roger J. Rossiter was recruited from Oxford University as Professor and Head of Biochemistry in 1947. Dr. Rossiter had research interests in brain carbohydrate and phosphorus metabolism, and in neuropathies. He rapidly established an active neurochemistry research group at Western. Professor Rossiter's research led to knowledge regarding the chemistry and metabolism of the myelin of nerves, with particular reference to the lipid components and the processes of both myelination and pathologic states of demyelination in the nervous system.
Dr. Rossiter played an active role in the development of medical sciences in Canada. He was instrumental in the establishment of the National Cancer Institute and the Medical Research Council and was the founding Chairman of the International Society of Neurochemistry. Dr. Rossiter also developed a very active graduate program in biochemistry, with the first M.Sc. degree conferred in 1948 and the first Ph.D. degree in 1949. Dr. Kenneth K. Carroll was the recipient of the first Ph.D. degree ever awarded at Western in 1949. Drs. Harold B. Stewart and Kenneth P. Strickland were recruited to the Department in the 1950's.
Professor Stewart was named as Head of the Department in 1965 when Professor Rossiter became Dean of the Graduate Faculty. This same year, the Department moved into the new Medical Sciences Building, which was constructed on the main University campus in North London.
Prior to 1965, the Department had been chiefly involved with graduate training and undergraduate instruction of medical students. Thereafter, the teaching of undergraduate biochemistry was expanded, with courses given in the Faculties of Science, Nursing, and Dentistry, and the Department of Home Economics. In the 1960's, new appointments included: Drs. William L. Magee, William C. McMurray, Valentina Donisch, Charles C. Bigelow, John R. Trevithick, Robert A. Cook, David B. Smith, Fred Possmayer, and Darcy Webbling. After the Department of Medical Research was disbanded in 1968, Dr. Kenneth K. Carroll transferred to the Department. With these new additions, research and teaching interests of the Department became more diversified in the areas of membranes, bioenergetics, physical biochemistry, enzymology, and protein chemistry.
National Cancer Institute - In the 1960's, the National Cancer Institute established the Cancer Research Laboratory on the main University campus under direction of Prof. A. Cameron Wallace.
When Dr. Wallace moved to become Head of Pathology at Western in 1965, Professor J. Alec McCarter moved from his position as Head of Biochemistry at Dalhousie to assume the Director's role. From that time, most of the appointments in the Cancer Research Laboratory, including those of Dr. Judith K. Ball and Dr. Ian G. Walker, were made jointly with Biochemistry.
Professor Strickland was appointed as Acting Head in 1971, when Professor Stewart was on leave. His appointment was extended to a second year when Professor Stewart became Dean of Graduate Studies in 1972.
Division of Clinical Biochemistry - When the Department of Pathological Chemistry ceased to exist in 1972, haematologists joined the Department of Medicine, while clinical chemists became members of the Division of Clinical Biochemistry within the Department of Biochemistry. Dr. John Griffith was appointed Chair of the Division. Professors Eugene R. Tustanoff and Ronald Hobkirk (who joined the Department as full-time faculty member in 1990) played very active roles in both research and teaching programs.
Dr. Bishnu D. Sanwal was recruited from the Department of Medical Genetics, University of Toronto to become Chair of the Department in 1973. This period saw important growth of our graduate program and the recruitment of faculty members with expertise in membrane and protein biochemistry (Drs. Eric H. Ball, Stanley D. Dunn, Christopher W. Grant, Murray Huff, and Theodore C.Y. Lo), mineral biochemistry (Dr. Peter Flanagan), clinical biochemistry (Dr. Norman Smith), and molecular biology (Dr. George A. Mackie). Upon the departure of Dr. Griffith, Dr. Milton Haines was appointed Chair of the Division of Clinical Biochemistry, a position he held until his retirement. After playing a critical leadership role in the Undergraduate Education program for over 15 years, Dr. Bill Magee stepped down as Chair of the Undergraduate Student Affairs Committee when he retired in 1994. Dr. Judith Ball was subsequently appointed to succeed Dr. Magee.
Cancer Research Institute - The tradition of appointing members of the Cancer Research Laboratory in Biochemistry was furthered when Dr. David T. Denhardt replaced Dr. Alec McCarter as Director in 1980 and hired a number of molecular biologists. These faculty members, including Dr. George Chaconas (who subsequently transferred full-time to the Department), formed the hub for the development of the Molecular Biology group within the Department and offered training and graduate courses in prokaryotic and eukaryotic molecular biology.
Further information about Dr. Sanwal's history can be found in the transcript (.PDF, 73KB) of his speech from a celebratory dinner on 30 Oct 2015. During this dinner, the Graduate Endowment Fund was re-named in honour of the contributions of Drs. Sanwal and Lo.
Dr. David B. Smith was Acting Chair of the Department when Dr. Sanwal went on his study-leave in 1977.
Dr. Bill McMurray was appointed as Chair in 1983. It was largely through his vision and efforts that a full-fledged group in molecular biology was established as part of the Department. This molecular biology group was comprised of Drs. J. Ball, G. Chaconas, G. Mackie, and three new recruits (Drs. Christopher J. Brandl, Gregory B. Gloor, and David B. Haniford). Dr. Gary Shaw, a structural biologist, was also recruited during this period. Additional new faculty included Drs. Vipin Bhayana and Jack Rip (both with expertise in clinical biochemistry), Drs. Harvey Goldberg and Graeme Hunter (research of bone proteins and biomineralization), Dr. Victor Han (expertise in fetal development), and Dr. Larry Fraher (hormone biochemistry research).
In 1989, the Cancer Research Laboratory Building was renamed as the London Life Molecular Biology Laboratories. Dr. Mackie and subsequently, Dr. Chaconas were appointed as Director of the Molecular Biology Laboratory. The creation of a critical mass of molecular biologists had a significant impact on both graduate and undergraduate programs. An interdisciplinary graduate program in Molecular Biology was launched in 1990, in partnership with the Departments of Microbiology & Immunology, Plant Sciences, and Zoology. In addition to the existing Biochemistry Honors program, a new Biochemistry/Chemistry Honors program was launched in collaboration with the Department of Chemistry.
Dr. Ian Walker was the Acting Chair of the Department from July 1, 1986 to June 30, 1987, when Dr. McMurray went on his study-leave. Efforts were made to develop the infrastructure for protein chemistry in the Department.
Dr. Bill Sanwal was appointed as Acting Chair with Dr. Ted Lo as Associate Chair of the Department, when the Department was searching for a new Chair. Dr. Ilona Skerjanc was recruited to the Department to join an existing group of researchers interested in muscle differentiation and development. Additional new faculty included Dr. Gabe DiMattia (research of stanniocalcin hormones) and Dr. Geoffrey Pickering (expertise in smooth muscle biology).
Dr. Ted Lo was appointed as Acting Chair in 1995 and Chair in 1996. Under his leadership, both research and teaching programs in the Department expanded through several phases of faculty recruitment and diversification of research into new fields of investigation. Working in collaboration with other departments and research institutes (in particular the Children's Health Research Institute), the Department was able to develop new research areas and to create new faculty positions. During this period, 19 new faculty members were recruited to the Department, bringing the total to 36. In addition, 17 faculty members from other departments (Chemistry, Computer Science, Dentistry, Medicine, Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Oncology, Paediatrics, and Surgery) were cross-appointed to the Department. Examples of such faculty include Drs. Robert Hegele, Robert Hudson, Lila Kari, Lars Konermann, David O'Gorman, Victoria Siu, and Eva Turley.
Although the Department is not formally organized into research groups, its research interests can be categorized into 4 major areas: genome dynamics and expression, human genetics, intracellular communication, and macromolecular structure. These areas were strengthened by the recruitment of structural biologists (Drs. James Choy, Marie Fraser, Gilles Lajoie, Shawn Li, Hong Ling, Brian Shilton, and Kenneth Yeung), molecular biologists (Drs. Megan Davey and David Edgell), cell biologists, clinical biochemists (Drs. Victor Prabhakaran and Alan Dennis), and geneticists (Drs. Peter Ainsworth, Nathalie Bérubé, Bonnie Deroo, Frederick Dick, Madhu Gupta, David Litchfield, Mellissa Mann, Peter Rogan, David Rodenhiser, Richard Rozmahel, and Joe Torchia). In addition, the integration of the Robarts Research Institute with The University of Western Ontario in 2007 resulted in the appointment of Drs. Susan Meakin and Caroline Schild-Poulter to the Department.
The Division of Clinical Biochemistry is chaired by Dr. C.A. (Tony) Rupar. This Division was expanded in 1997 to include both biochemical and clinical geneticists.
With the contributions of new faculty members, the Department was able to expand the scope and contents of both undergraduate and graduate programs. Dr. Judith Ball served as Chair of the Undergraduate Program Committee until her retirement in 2000. She was instrumental in launching a number of new courses. The Department offered eighteen biochemistry undergraduate courses. After holding positions as Research Associate and Lecturer in the Department for a number of years, Dr. Jill Stewart-DeHaan was appointed in 1996 as an Adjunct Professor to look after the Biochemistry laboratory course and to lecture in the second year Biochemistry and Molecular Biology course (BCH 280a). After Dr. Stewart-DeHaan’s retirement in 2004, Dr. Derek McLachlin was recruited to take up her responsibilities.
In addition to the existing Biochemistry and Biochemistry / Chemistry Honors programs, three new Honors programs (Biochemistry / Cell Biology, Bioinformatics, and Clinical Biochemistry) were recently introduced. The number of students taking Biochemistry courses rose to 2,477 in 2004, including 52 students in Honors programs. The Biochemistry Graduate program was appraised by the Ontario Council of Graduate Studies and approved to continue with a rating of “Good Quality” (the best category given).
The Department of Biochemistry played a critical leadership role in launching the new Bachelor of Medical Sciences Program, which is offered jointly by the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and the Faculty of Science (see Chronology of BMSc Program) (.pdf, 193KB). All basic medical science departments are full participants in this program. Dr. Ted Lo was the founding Director and Dr. Judith Ball was the Academic Counselor of this Program. BCH 280a is a required course for all students in Medical Sciences and Biological Sciences. This course had an enrolment of around 1,500 students in 2004.
During Dr. Lo's chairship, a number of core research facilities were established:
- Advanced Biotechnology Research Centre (Co-directors: Drs. Dunn and Shaw). This Centre was a state-of-the-art facility for analysis of macromolecular structure and function. It included the Macromolecular Crystallography Facility, Biomolecular NMR Facility, Biomolecular Interactions and Conformation Facilsity, Biomolecular Separation and Analysis Laboratory, Protein Expression Laboratory, Molecular Modeling Facility, Peptide Synthesis Laboratory, and Mass Spectrometers.
- Biological Mass Spectrometry Laboratory / Don Rix Protein Identification Facility (Director: Dr. Lajoie).
- Functional Genomics / Proteomics Facility (Director: Dr. Litchfield).
- MALDI Mass Spectrometry Facility (Director: Dr. Yeung)
- London Regional Genomcs Centre (Director: Dr. Hegele).
- Transgenic and Gene Targeting Facility (Co-directors: Drs. Yee and Rozmahel).
Six of these core facilities have been integrated to form the London Regional Proteomics Centre (LRPC), under the direction of Dr. Stan Dunn. These facilities include the Functional Proteomics Facility, Biological Mass Spectrometry Laboratory, Biomolecular Interactions and Conformations Facility, Biomolecular NMR Facility, MALDI Mass Spectrometry Facility, and Macromolecular Crystallization Facility.
The Department was also involved in promoting science to high school and elementary school students. Under the leadership of Drs. Chris Brandl and Greg Gloor, the Department launched on-going Biochemistry Outreach modules for area high schools and an Outreach Science Ontario project for both elementary and high school students in 1997.
Dr. Chris Brandl was the Acting Chair of the Department when Dr. Lo went on his study-leave from September 2005 to September 2006. The Graduate Endowment Fund was initiated during this time to help provide support for the Department's Graduate programs. A search was also initiated to enhance research into human genetics, leading to the recruitment of Dr. Bonnie Deroo in 2007.
Dr. David Litchfield was appointed as Chair of the Department in 2007. Faculty recruited included Dr. Liju Yang (clinical biochemistry), Dr. Walter Siqueira (an oral biologist with a cross-appointment to Dentistry), Dr. Ilka Heinemann, Dr. Patrick O'Donoghue (joint appointment with Department of Chemistry), Dr. Michael Boffa (from University of Windsor), and Dr. Bogumil Karas. Other appointments include Dr. Greg Penner (adjunct professor), Dr. Angela Rutledge (adjunct professor), Dr. Lana Lee (current faculty at University of Windsor; adjunct professor at Western University), Dr. Christopher Garnham (adjunct professor), and Dr. Marlys Koschinsky.
Dr. Chris Brandl was Acting Chair during Dr. Litchfield's study leave from July 2013 to July 2014. During this time, Dr. Murray Junop was recruited to the Department from McMaster University.
Dr. David Edgell was appointed as Acting Chair of the Department in 2017.
Over the years, the Department of Biochemistry has been fortunate to have a group of dedicated and collegial faculty members and staff who are committed to the academic mission of the Department. The functions of graduate training, teaching, research, and contributions to the profession at large were facilitated in large measure by administrative staff, notably Debbie Cobban, Maureen Coleman (for some thirty years of service), Dr. Brian Dempsey, Barbara Green, Melita Hayes, Catherine Neelamkavil, Judy Penchuk, Lindsay Ralph, Ruth Webber, and Dr. Lynn Weir. The technical backup was provided first by William H. Green (also for over thirty years), followed by E. (Ted) C. Jarvis as Technical Officer, Walter Chung (technical support services), and Kyle Pollard as Manager of Operations and Safety.
Source material: Barr, M.L. "A Century of Medicine at Western" (1977), and Department records.