Dr. Henry Friesen, a native of Morden, Manitoba, studied medicine at the University of Manitoba where his brilliance as an undergraduate student foreshadowed a career marked by outstanding achievement in every facet of academic medicine. After a postgraduate clinical residency in Winnipeg, Dr. Friesen undertook rigorous training in advanced research in the field of endocrinology at the New England Center Hospital in Boston. A year as Assistant Professor at the Tufts University School of Medicine was followed by an appointment at McGill University where Dr. Friesen rose rapidly through the academic ranks to become a full Professor of Experimental Medicine. During this period he received an Associateship of the Medical Research Council of Canada, the highest career award granted by the Council.
Dr. Friesens research, embodied in hundreds of research articles published in the worlds most prestigious scientific journals, contributed enormously to our understanding of the endocrine system and the structure and function of hormones in health and disease. His work led to his discovery of the hormone human prolactin, and to the successful diagnosis and treatment of many hundreds of persons suffering from prolactin-related disorders of reproduction.
In 1973, Dr. Friesen returned to the University of Manitoba as Professor of Medicine and Professor and Head of the Department of Physiology which, under his stewardship, became one of the leading departments of physiology in North America. Dozens of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, from all parts of the world, were trained in Dr. Friesen's laboratory, many of whom went on to assume leadership positions in medical research centres in Canada and abroad.
Dr. Friesen's influence on academic medicine has gone far beyond his own field of research. Many national and international organizations concerned with academic medicine and medical science have been the beneficiaries of his vision and entrepreneurial drive. He is a member of the most influential societies in biomedical science and has served with great distinction on the governing boards of such bodies as: the Endocrine Society, the Canadian Society for Clinical Investigation, the Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism, the Medical Research Council and the Canadian Cancer Society; and, as President of the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Friesen has also been an active contributor to numerous committees, task forces and advisory bodies dealing with the development of biomedical research and the review of academic programs and departments.
In 1991, Dr. Friesen was appointed President of the Medical Research Council of Canada, the pre-eminent leadership position in Canadian medical research. In a few short years he has transformed the Council into a seed bed of organizational innovation in which powerful new links have been established with other research agencies and with business and industry and in which the scope of the Councils programs have been broadened to include population health.
The Canadian Medical Discoveries Fund, the Canadian Breast Cancer Initiative, the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation and the partnership between the Council and the pharmaceutical industry are some of the outgrowths of Dr. Friesen's imaginative leadership and determination.
Many honors and awards have been conferred on Dr. Friesen, including the Order of Canada, the Gairdner Foundation Award, an honorary doctorate from the University of Western Ontario, a Distinguished Professorship from the University of Manitoba, several distinguished lectureships and distinguished service awards. These attest to his stature as an outstanding figure in medicine and medical research. Less public but more important evidence of his achievements and contributions can be found in the research his efforts have enabled, the patients who have benefited from his discoveries, the careers his mentorship has advanced and the many students, young researchers and colleagues whom he inspired to strive for excellence.
It is fitting indeed that Dr. Henry Friesen, physician, scientist, leader and Innovator par excellence is to receive, from his alma mater, the University of Manitoba's highest honour - the degree Doctor of Science (honoris causa).