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Born in 1943, David Lorne John Tyrrell grew up on his parents’ farm near Duffield, west of Edmonton. After completing high school in Stony Plain, he enrolled at the University of Alberta and received a Gold Medal in Science upon completion of a bachelor of science degree in chemistry in 1964. He finished his doctor of medicine and was awarded a Gold Medal in Pediatrics in 1968. In his second year of medicine, he received a Life Insurance of North America Studentship, providing him an opportunity to complete a combined MD and PhD program. Following an internship at the University of Alberta Hospital, Dr. Tyrrell entered Queens’ University and completed his PhD in pharmacology in 1972. In 1975, he returned to Alberta to complete training in internal medicine to qualify as a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. He subspecialized in infectious diseases and, in 1976, was awarded the Medical Research Council of Canada Centennial Fellowship, which has played a pivotal role in Dr. Tyrrell’s medical career. The following two years of his postdoctoral training in the field of virology at the Karolinksa Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, inspired a research interest that continues to this day.
In 1986, while teaching a graduate course, Dr. Tyrrell found clues that might lead to the discovery of antiviral drugs to inhibit the hepatitis B virus. Thus began his research on the virus that was the ninth leading cause of death according to the World Health Organization. Dr. Tyrrell was joined by his colleague in chemistry, Dr. Morris Robins, in studying chronic hepatitis B, which affects approximately 300 to 350 million people. The major findings that ensued prompted one of the largest research contracts with industry ever known to a Canadian university. Glaxo Canada, now Glaxo Wellcome, supported his ongoing work and established the Glaxo Heritage Research Institute and a research chair in virology at the U of A. Continuing his research, Dr. Tyrrell and his team discovered antiviral therapy for chronic hepatitis B, leading to the licensing of Heptovir (Canada) and Zeffix (worldwide), which is saving many lives daily. The recognition received for this major finding include Alberta’s ASTech Award for Innovation and Science in 1993; J. Gordin Kaplan Award for Excellence in Research from the University of Alberta in 1998; and the Prix Galien Canada medal for research from the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of Canada, also in 1998. Dr. Tyrrell was awarded a Gold Medal by the Canadian Liver Foundation and the Canadian Association for the Study of Liver in 2000.
Dr. Tyrrell’s dedication to research is equalled by his gift for teaching. He has been honoured by students of all levels of study, including an Outstanding Resident Award and Teacher of the Year Awards in all three phases of medical school: basic sciences, clinical and bedside teaching. He also received the U of A Rutherford Undergraduate Teaching Award in 1990, and the University Cup for excellence as an educator and a researcher in 1999. In 1998, he was Alumnus of the Year, University of Alberta, Faculty of Medicine.
Dr. Tyrrell has trained many research students and postdoctoral fellows; served on more than 200 committees, task forces and research teams; and is widely published in books and medical and science journals around the world.
Dr. Tyrrell’s impressive medical career includes academic appointments at the University of Alberta, one of Canada’s most prestigious teaching and research institutions. These appointments include: Assistant Professor in Medicine and Biochemistry in 1976, promoted to Full Professor in Medicine and Biochemistry in 1982; Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases from 1982 to 1986; and Chairman of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases from 1986 to 1994. He was appointed Dean of Medicine in 1994, and re-appointed in 1999 as Dean, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.
While receiving provincial, national and international accolades for his revolutionary work, Dr. Tyrrell’s close ties with his native province remain strong. A firm conviction to developing quality medical health care in Alberta and Canada has kept Dr. Tyrrell at home. Some of his numerous commitments include past president of the Association of Canadian Medical Colleges and past chair of the Provincial Advisory Committee on Health Research.