In recognition of his extraordinary contributions to diabetes research
Professor Mladen Vranić, distinguished Croatian-Canadian scientist, expert in diabetes research
The University of Toronto recognized extraordinary achievement in community, national, and international service and honoured professor Mladen Vranić, whose accomplishments are of such excellence that they provide, through example, inspiration and leadership to the graduates of the University. It was offered to him in recognition of his lifetime of extraordinary contributions to diabetes research and scientific mentorship, as well as his advocacy for the importance of research in advancing public health.
Congratulation to professor Mladen Vranić from the readers of the CROWN!
HONORARY DEGREE RECIPIENT Mladen Vranic
Mladen Vranic, Professor Emeritus of the Departments of Physiology and Medicine of the University of Toronto, is an internationally renowned figure in the field of diabetes research. He was born in Zagreb, Croatia and completed his MD and DSc at the Medical School, University of Zagreb, where his father was Professor and Dean at the Faculties of Economics and Engineering. Professor Charles Best, a co-discoverer of insulin, invited him to the University of Toronto in 1963 as his last Postdoctoral Fellow. He became ful1 professor of Physiology and Medicine in 1972 and was Chair of the Physiology Department from 1991-1995.
Dr. Vranic',s discoveries concerning the relationship between exercise, stress and diabetes have had tremendous impact on individuals suffering from this disease. His ground-breaking studies have opened many doors for diabetics, including participation in Olympic Games. His development of tracer methods revolutionized the field of glucose turnover in physiology and diabetes, paving the way for clinical investigation leading to the translation of basic science to practice. He led the first international symposium on exercise and diabetes, which had a huge impact, facilitating the evidence of epidemiologists that exercise can prevent diabetes. His discovery of extrapancreatic glucagon changed existing dogma that pancreatic hormone is synthesized in only one gland. He demonstrated mechanisms whereby the muscle and the liver are protected against hyperglycemia and therefore, against diabetic complications. He pioneered the concept that some stresses are beneficial for diabetes and is currently developing methods to prevent hypoglycemia in type 1 diabetes.
Honours include Orders of Canada (Officer), and Ontario, and Laureate of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. Inaugural awards include the Canadian Diabetes Associatiorls Lifetime Achievement as well as Banting and Best Memorial Award, and the Mizuno Lectureship and Award from Japan. He is the only Canadian to receive the Banting Medal and Lectureship for Distinguished scientific Achievement and the Albert Renold Award for the training of students and Fellows who are now leaders in the field of diabetes research. He received the Solomon A. Berson Distinguished Lectureship from the American Physiological Society. During sabbaticals he has been an Invited professor at the University of Geneva and Oxford University and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, Croatian Academy of Arts and Science (corresponding member), and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Dr. Vranic holds honorary degrees from the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, and the University of Saskatchewan, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the first graduating class.
Chancellor Peterson, Dean Whiteside, colleagues, graduates, parents, friends and family members.
I am moved and deeply grateful to my university for the honour of this degree, and also for the opportunity to address this convocation. Graduating from University is always among the most memorable occasions in anyone’s life. Let me begin therefore by offering you my warmest congratulations!
Convocation addresses differ widely, but they have one thing in common. Very few graduates remember much that the convocation speaker said! I’m delighted nevertheless, to share with you some of my own perspectives on the life adventures that you are about to begin. I have had the privilege of being a member of this incredible University for almost 50 years. It is a marvelous place. One of the things that has endured throughout those decades is the remarkable quality of the students. However, even your prodigious ability to learn will be tested in the years ahead. Innovation and research are transforming all the health-related disciplines at a rapid pace. Thus, while this is an exciting and promising period in medical history, it also poses challenges.
Speaking of medical history, please permit me a brief look backwards. As you know, one of the greatest scientific events here at the University of Toronto, and in fact globally, was the discovery of insulin in 1921 in our Department of Physiology. A number of our students and even some staff members were convinced for some time that I personally participated in the discovery of insulin. However, contrary to that popular belief, I am not 120 years old! At the same time, I happily acknowledge that this discovery not only had a profound effect on the world but also altered the course of my life. I had the privilege of becoming the last postdoctoral fellow of Professor Charles Best, a co-discoverer of insulin. So it was, that I learned first-hand from Charles Best how that amazing discovery took place, and how it affected everyone closely associated with it.
Dr. Charles Best, co-discoverer of insulin, with dr. Mladen Vranić in Geneva 1962. Source of the photo Dubravko Barač: Zagrepčanin u kući slavnih Kanađana, Hrvatski iseljenički zbornik 2011, [PDF]
I urge each of you to take the time to learn the human stories behind various medical discoveries that have shaped modern healthcare. Your appreciation of the changes in the knowledge base of your profession will be greatly enhanced if you can put new advances into perspective. Aside from that sense of PERSPECTIVE, what else might help you to thrive in the years ahead? I do not have any magic formula, but I would go so far as to suggest three keys to a fulfilling life - … PASSION, ORIGINALITY, and PERSEVERANCE. Let me start with PASSION. It’s the equivalent of a GPS for the road of life. Sometimes it may take a little while to recognize what you’re actually passionate about. For example, when I was in an Italian concentration camp, I took classes in Latin. My teacher in despair told me that I might be better suited to milking the cows. I milked the cows with great enthusiasm, but without success. At the end of the day, I was returned to the Latin teacher!
It was 10 years later when I stumbled into the field that was to become my life’s work. I have never regretted for one instant my commitment to a life in medical research and education. It has been a wonderful journey, and I hope yours is every bit as fulfilling as mine has been. The second attribute that I believe will help chart your course is ORIGINALITY. The great American poet, Robert Frost, in his famous piece “The Road Not Taken” captured what I have seen so many successful people do. He writes:-
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
Indeed, all of us are always facing major choices. Please consider taking the road “less traveled”. That is the route to originality, which in my opinion is the key to making a difference in any discipline or any profession.
I would add, in this respect, that in many professions, especially medicine, things move so quickly that it is easy to run down the road at breakneck speed, never stopping to smell the flowers. I urge you all to remember the inspiration that can be derived from great music and the enduring insights of great literature. For example, some 120 years ago, the Great Russian writer, Feodor Dostoyevsky, in his book “The Brothers Karamazov”, spoke about the problem with too many specialties in medicine. He said that soon, there would be a different specialist for both the left and right nostrils! Please try to be enough of a generalist to put the pieces together, be it in patient care, research, teaching or anything else you do.
I come now to the final key. Let’s assume that you’ve found what you’re passionate about and that you have innovative and original ideas. I believe there is something else, equally important. And that something is PERSEVERANCE.
Life can be unfair and it can be tough. It’s not easy, to get new and original ideas accepted. In that respect, I titled a recent retrospective “Odyssey between Scylla and Charybdis through storms of carbohydrate metabolism and diabetes”. You may recall that Scylla and Charybdis were two sea monsters in Greek mythology described by Homer. They were located close enough to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors, including Odysseus. Avoiding Charybdis meant passing too close to Scylla and vice versa. Life is full of such challenges. It may sometimes feel as if you need the legendary strength and perseverance of Odysseus to avoid being devoured by sea monsters. But you can and must persevere.
After all, sometimes, things aren’t as bad they seem. Let me give a personal example. About twenty years ago, I had a stroke. On the second day, a neurologist told my wife that the prognosis was terrible, because I had been unable to answer even simple questions. My wife asked him what questions I had failed to answer. The neurologist replied that I’d been unable to identify the parts of a watch – face and hands. To which she replied, “He’s an immigrant. He never learned those words. Try asking him about diabetes.”
In a moment, the neurologist returned with a big smile saying “He is perfectly normal”. I am not sure I have ever been “perfectly normal”, and I still haven’t learned the different parts of a watch! However, I did go on to some of the best years of my career after that serious illness that turned out to be a lot less serious than was first imagined.
The messages here are simple. Be sensible. Keep a sense of humour. Remember that Canada is an incredibly diverse and multicultural country where not everyone will be perfectly fluent in English. And above all, be optimistic. The best is yet to come, and I wish you nothing but great success and happiness from this magical day forward.
Again, warmest congratulations to each and every one of you. And thank you for letting me share this day with you and your loved ones.
Professor Mladen Vranić
GREAT KNOWLEDGE CONTRIBUTIONS
Professor Emeritus Mladen Vranic was one of the last post-doctoral fellows to work with Dr. Charles Best. A world-renowned expert in diabetes, Vranic's groundbreaking work in the field of glucose metabolism, exercise, hypoglycemia and stress transformed the landscape of diabetes research. Through nearly five decades of scholarship, Vranic has taught and mentored many of the current leaders in the field.
Significance of the honorary degree: "I was honoured to receive the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada but I think the honorary degree is the greatest honour you can have from your own university. I've loved every second of my academic life and it is very rewarding to know that peers consider what I have done to be of value to our society. It validates my life's work and it's marvellous to be recognized by my adopted country. It's a great feeling."
Thoughts on U of T: "The University of Toronto is a truly great institution that attracts some of the most outstanding faculty and students from around the world. Early in my career, I was drawn here because of its international research reputation. The discovery of insulin in 1921, in our Department of Physiology, is one of the most important medical breakthroughs ever made and had a profound institutional impact. The excellence of its programs and the collaborative interdisciplinary culture are key to the kind of innovative research that leads to major discoveries."
The role of the university today: "Universities are the instruments by which civilization moves forward. They nourish and enable creative thinking and the unbiased search for truth. They encourage meaningful discourse and competitive thinking so that individuals facing everyday challenges can collectively make the country more prosperous. In the field of medicine, the progress has been more spectacular over the past 60 years than ever before, and there is a direct line to the university research that has led to dramatically improved mortality and morbidity throughout the world."
In 1963, Croatian-born Dr. Mladen Vranic was invited to come to Canada by Dr. Charles H. Best, the co-discover of insulin, to be his final post-doctoral fellow. This sojourn marked the beginning of Dr. Vranics remarkable career as a leading advocate for the advancement of diabetes research, and teacher of innumerable renowned scientists and academic leaders.
A letter from Canadian Prime Minister
Dear Dr. Vranic:
It is with great pleasure that I extend my warmest greetings to you on the occasion of your appointment to the Order of Canada by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaelle Jean, Governor General of Canada.
This honour reflects the profound admiration of your fellow citizens for your remarkable contributions to our country and to society as a whole. You may take great pride in having been named an Officer of the Order of Canada, an honour which represents your lifelong commitment to excellence and your dedication to enriching our quality of life as a nation.
I would like to join with your family and many friends in extending my sincere congratulations to you upon receiving this special recognition of your efforts.
Please accept my best wishes for every happiness and success in the years to come.
Currentpast chairs - Department of Physiology, University of Toronto Standing, left to right: Dr. John F. MacDonald (2001-2008), Dr. John R.G. Challis (1995-2000), Dr. Patricia L. Brubaker (Acting, 2000-2001), Dr. Stephen G. Matthews (2008-present) Seated, left to right: Dr. Harold L. Atwood (1981-1991), Dr. Mladen Vranic (1991-1995). Photo from 2008; source.
Some of the recent honours to professor Vladimir Vranić
2011 Honourary degree, University of Saskatchewan (June 2)
2011 Honourary degree, University of Toronto (June 1) (the only other member of our department to receive this was Professor Charles Best)
2010 Officer of the Order of Canada (November 17) (the highest civilian order of Canada, which was introduced to replace the British "sir", 60 years ago. The only other member of our huge department of Physiology to receive this honour, is the late Charles Best.)
2010 Symposium to Honour Mladen Vranic for a Lifetime of Scientific Achievements and Mentoring, Toronto, Canada (April 19)
2010 Honorary president international Academy of Sportology (Tokyo, Japan)
2010 Order of Ontario (the highest civilian honour of the province)
2009 Fellow Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (this is the academy that was initiated six years ago. As you know, I am also a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, which is the Canadian Academy of Arts and Science)
Many thanks to professor Mladen Vranić for this information.
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