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Western unveils new endowed chair with focus on chronic kidney disease research

Bill Clark (centre) with brothers George (left) and Bob. Marshall Healey/980 CFPL

Western University officials are celebrating the creation of The Clark Chair in Nephrology at London, Ont.’s, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.

The new chair, named after nephrologist and Schulich professor emeritus Dr. William F. Clark, comes with an endowment of $3.5 million for research into chronic kidney disease, which impacts one in 10 people and is expected to be the world’s fifth most common cause of early death by 2040, the university says.

Speaking with reporters, Clark described the announcement as humbling.

“My accomplishments really are the result of working with a lot of very gifted and talented people, and I was just very lucky to arrive at certain points in time with such a great cohort of people to work with,” he said.

“You get great results when you work with great people. So I was very lucky.”

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The endowment was created by London Health Sciences Foundation, The Kidney Foundation of Canada, and Western University, who matched funds raised by the two charities.

“When a chair is created, it is an investment by the community and the university in declaring, for our institution as well as our outside partners, that this is an absolutely critical research focus for our organization,” said Dr. John Yoo, dean of Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.

“It’s planting a flag to us internally, and messaging to the outside, that nephrology research is an absolutely critical part of our research enterprise.”

Endowed chairs like The Clark Chair in Nephrology make a big difference in attracting and retaining talent in London, said Western President Alan Shepard.

“It allows Western and the LHSC together to appoint somebody to the chair who has a mix of duties, partly to treat patients who have kidney disease, but also to do research,” Shepard said.

It’s through the research that we can advance the cause of that treatment. If you don’t do research, the treatment you give tomorrow and the next day is the same as you gave yesterday or the day before.”

Clark echoed Shepard’s sentiments, saying that the creation of chairs was critical in ensuring that “productive groups become more productive.”

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“I think with the nephrology program at Western, they really have a great reputation, but to sustain that and to build on that, you need chairs to bring in really excellent talent to grow the product more,” he said.

“This is the opportunity to do that. And I thank everyone who’s contributed to this chair for that because it really helps all of us, and particularly our patients with kidney disease.”

Clark’s career dates back roughly four decades, according to a media release issued by Western University, which highlights his contributions to myeloma kidney disease and to screening strategies for kidney disease.

As well, the university says his research into the devastating Walkerton E. coli outbreak in 2000, which left seven people dead and more than 2,000 sickened, “enhanced the knowledge and practice of nephrology globally.”

“It started with leaders like Bill Clark who developed a philosophy and a culture of collaborative research here,” said Yoo when asked about Western’s prominence in nephrology.

“They’ve been able to attract the best nephrology researchers and clinicians into the city and the university, and they have done, I would say, profound, impactful studies that have changed the way that care is delivered for kidney patients all over the world.”

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Who will be selected for the chair is anybody’s guess. The process for applying is rigorous, and includes a committee who evaluates the qualifications of those who have applied, Yoo said.

“There will be individuals from across Canada and beyond Canada that I imagine will apply to this very prestigious chair.”

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