Alumni Update – David Patrick 1982 TFHA Scholar
1982 TFHA Scholar
Professor of Population and Public Health at UBC and Director of Research at the BC Centre for Disease Control
We have Terry Fox Scholars working in a wide range of fields, including medicine, activism, and tech. Do you have an area of humanitarian work you are passionate about? Tell us about it.
I think the Terry Fox experience made me think about the importance of environmental and social determinants of health and of the importance of prevention. As an Infectious Disease Physician, this means that I have focused my career on responding to the threat of emerging infectious diseases. We’ve done work with STI, HIV, vaccine preventable disease, SARS, pandemic flu and COVID-19. This has often meant working with groups and populations at especially high risk. My long term passion is to preserve the value of antibiotics for future generations by working to combat the threat of antimicrobial resistance.
Since Terry ran his Marathon of Hope we have seen many new life-saving advances in cancer treatment. How has the humanitarian area you have worked/volunteered in changed over the years?
The very same revolution in genomics that has led to cancer breakthroughs since Terry’s Marathon of Hope, is creating dividends in infectious diseases. During COVID-19, rapid gene sequencing of viruses has helped with everything from understanding spread to designing and modifying vaccines and treatments. The mRNA technology that has given us some of our best COVID vaccines was originally designed to address other health problems, including cancer. The other thing we’re learning is that microbes are really important for keeping us healthy. Babies who are breastfed and who do not get unnecessary antibiotics are less likely to develop asthma, and we think this operates by preserving beneficial bacteria in the gut that help tune the immune system away from allergic reactions. Asthma rates in small children are plummeting in places where antibiotic use has been reduced. That’s another epidemic that could be reversed!
You are the first year’s recipient of the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award in 1982. How has humanitarian work impacted your life?
The Award was invaluable in enabling me to get through medical training while still working at camps for kids with diabetes or intellectual disability. This taught me a lot about care, but also about the value of prevention in health and has shaped by career direction since.