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 »  Home  »  Science  »  Professor Mladen Vranić, outstanding Croatian scientist in Canada
Professor Mladen Vranić, outstanding Croatian scientist in Canada
By Prof.Dr. Darko Zubrinic | Published  01/31/2008 | Science | Unrated
Collaboration with the University of Zagreb

Collaboration with the University of Zagreb: In 1987 the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Zagreb decided to appoint as Visiting Professors, a number of academics living abroad. The procedure was the same as for regular professors. The first two appointments made were those of Suad Efendic and Mladen. It was for him an important and emotional recognition, which occurred through the efforts of Drs. Skrabalo and Granic, 24 years after his leaving Zagreb. At that time, Mate Granic was emerging as the most promising young diabetologist in Croatia. He was invited to lecture in Toronto and it was a great occasion to have his entire family staying with the Vranics. Mladen wanted to show his wife what real Dalmatian cooking was, and so Mate agreed to barbeque a red snapper. They were duly sent to the fish market with precise instructions as to the size and weight of the snapper. Mate prepared it with great precision, care and perfection. These were his characteristics as a diabetologist and they remained with him as Dean of Medicine and later in his political career as Minister of Foreign Affairs, an incredibly difficult task during and following the war of aggression in Croatia.

In 1989 he decided to hold the first of what was to be a series of Symposia jointly organized by the University of Zagreb (Skrabalo and Granic), the University of Toronto (Vranic and Hollenberg) and the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm (Efendic and Luft). The meeting in Dubrovnik was very successful and attracted many European diabetologists, including the first large Russian contingent. The main organizer of this meeting was Mate, and it was arranged that the Organizing Committee with some guests would visit the University of Zagreb Medical Faculty, the Institute of Diabetes and the President of Croatia. They also visited Dr. Separovic, then President of the University, who depicted a gloomy picture of the impending future. An emotional event for Mladen was just prior to the meeting when he hiked Triglav with Slovenian friends acting as guides. It was his first hike to Triglav since leaving Croatia and he cannot imagine anything more beautiful than looking down at the clouds from high on the rock face. The war, which began two years later, interrupted further organization of this Symposium.

The establishment of the Republic of Croatia gave rise to a number of new initiatives among Croatian immigrants. Mladen served for several years on the Executive of the Almae Matris Croaticae Alumni. Through this group he organized numerous visits and lectureships for Faculty from the University of Zagreb to the University of Toronto. He was appointed Honorary Member, with M. Grmek and Z. Skrabalo, to the Advisory Board of the World Organization of Croatian Physicians and also served as a member of the Advisory Board of the Croatian Medical Journal. During the war he widely circulated information concerning events in Croatia to raise awareness here in Canada. Most of the information was regularly faxed to him from Professor Skrabalo and the Diabetes Centre. During the war Mate Granic (then Foreign Minister of Croatia) visited Toronto and in his speech promised that the integrity of Croatia would be regained despite the awful situation in which a large part of Croatia was occupied by the Yugoslav army.  What Mladen considered to be an optimistic dream of Mate was accomplished. It is one thing that he learned about Mate - his carefully thought out predictions are eventually accomplished.

In the last few years Mladen has been a member of the International Advisory Board of the Medical Studies in English, at the University of Zagreb, Croatia. It is a very important endeavor at the school of medicine, and it is directed by the Dean Mrs. N. Cikes and professor D. Jezek. Mladen is involved in the teaching program on a yearly basis. The University of Zagreb and the University of Toronto signed a memorandum of agreement which should boost cooperation between the two universities. Mladen helped establish such an agreement. He also participated at the first congress of Croatian scientists from Croatia and Diaspora held in Vukovar, November 15 - 19, 2004. It was the first meeting of this sort which promoted the collaboration between the scientists.

Chair of the Department of Physiology, University of Toronto: At the time of his stroke, Mladen was one of the candidates for Chair of the Department. Following his recovery, his physician sent a letter to the Dean indicating that he could still be a viable candidate. He was elected to start as Chair in October 1991. His concern was how he would be able to combine the administration of a very large department with research, publications and extensive travel. Before this appointment he had a variety of administrative functions in the Medical School, Department, Banting & Best Diabetes Centre and as Director of the Best Foundation. Those responsibilities, however, were not comparable to the task of the Chairmanship. He was very lucky that with the tremendous help of his two post-doctoral fellows, Drs. Adria Giacca and Qing Shi, and experienced technicians and students, the lab continued to run smoothly. Soon after his appointment, there was a crisis in the Faculty of Medicine and all the Chairs of the Department met on a daily basis to discuss a plan of action. It was a fast way for a new Chair to learn. Finally, at the last meeting in the house of the President of the University, the decision was made to ask the Dean to resign. Not surprisingly, the task to speak to the Dean was given to the Chair of the Department of Psychiatry. For one year there was an Interim Dean until Dr. A. Aberman was appointed. Thus, Mladen had the unusual circumstance of serving under three quite different Deans of Medicine.

The Department of Physiology at the University of Toronto was founded in 1887 and has an illustrious history. One of the most prominent Chairs was Dr. A.B. Macallum (1891-1917), whose legacy was the recognition of the importance of research in addition to teaching. Dr. J.J. Macleod (1918-1928) was one of the worlds' leading physiologists with a particular reputation in the field of carbohydrate metabolism. He provided the facilities and physiological “know-how” for the discovery of insulin, which is credited to Banting, Best, Macleod and Collip. The Nobel Prize, the first to Canadians, was shared by Banting and Macleod. Dr. Charles H. Best became Chairman in 1929 and continued the 33 year legacy. Departments of Physiology in North America are generally much larger than in Europe because they embody both primary and cross-appointed members from other departments. They all share teaching commitments and participate in the supervision of graduate students. The total number of assistant, associate and full professors in our Department of Physiology at the present time is about 100. Mladen was very keen to strengthen the relationships between the Departments of Physiology and Medicine. This close collaboration between Physiology and Clinical Departments resulted in many ventures covering the whole spectrum of research, from molecular biology to clinical trials. All endocrinologists in the Department of Physiology are cross-appointed to the Clinical Division of Endocrinology of the Medical School. This initiative of bringing basic and clinical departments closer together was further strengthened by his successor, Dr. John Challis, a reproductive physiologist. With the crisis in the Medical School, the Department of Physiology was very uncertain about its future as an independent department, which created great malaise. A most important role was to unify the department with respect to primary and cross-appointed members. Research within the department is carried out exclusively through external granting funds. During Mladen's chairmanship, the inflow of grants for research reached a level comparable to the strongest Departments of Physiology in North America. He also tightened the administrative structure of the department, which was very fortunate because two years after assuming the Chair, he needed an emergency quadruple heart bypass. For a few months, the Deputy Chair of the Department ensured continuity.

In October 1996 he was the Chairman of the Committee to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the discovery of insulin in the Department of Physiology. Delegates from over 50 countries, including Croatian diabetologists, participated in what was a very strong scientific program that commemorated what Dr. Michael Bliss calls one of the most dramatic adventures in the history of medicine. 

An important recognition came in 1997 when he had the honour of being elected as a Corresponding Member of the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences on the recommendation of Drs. Skrabalo, Padovan and Kastelan. Since the time that Bishop Strossmayer established the Academy over a century ago, it has played a very important role in the academic life of Croatia. The induction ceremony is magnificent, and an exciting opportunity to again meet many of his former professors and colleagues. Dr. Zeljko Metelko, now Director of the Diabetes Centre in Zagreb, took Suad and Mladen to show them some of the areas which were completely devastated by the war. Later the same year, he had the second honour of being elected into the Royal Society of Canada (Canadian Academy of Arts & Science). The Royal Society of Canada was founded just a few years after the Croatian Academy. The induction was carried out in the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, the capital of Canada.

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