Renowned children’s diabetes researcher wins international prize
Dr. Heather Dean, professor emeritus of pediatrics and child health in the Max Rady College of Medicine, has been awarded the 2021 J. Allyn Taylor International Prize in Medicine.
The prize, given annually by the Robarts Research Institute at Western University, recognizes scientists who have made significant contributions in the institute’s principal areas of research.
Dean, a pediatric endocrinologist, is being honoured in the area of discovery and innovation in diabetes. As a clinician-scientist, she has made globally important contributions to the understanding of Type 2 diabetes in children and youth.
In the late 1980s, when Type 2 was almost unknown in young people, Dean and her colleagues discovered that some First Nations children in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario had the disease. She went on to lead groundbreaking research on the screening, treatment, prevention and epidemiology of Type 2 diabetes in children.
“Congratulations to Dr. Dean on receiving this prestigious, richly deserved award,” said Dr. Brian Postl, dean of the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences. “Her exceptional commitment to the health and well-being of children and youth has inspired many to carry on her legacy.”
Dean and her colleagues published the first paper about First Nations children with Type 2 diabetes in Canada in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 1992.
She was a key player in the 30-year story of how First Nations communities teamed with Manitoba health professionals and researchers to address the disease, as told in the 2018 book Diagnosing the Legacy: The Discovery, Research, and Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes in Indigenous Youth by Larry Krotz.
“In the 1990s,” Dean recalled, “I collaborated with a handful of pediatricians around the world who tenaciously insisted that the medical community heed our early warnings of this devastating new disease in children.”
Receiving the Taylor Prize, Dean said, firstly allows her to celebrate the accomplishments of the DREAM (Diabetes Research Envisioned & Accomplished in Manitoba) team at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba.
“Secondly, this award validates the vital role of descriptive clinical research, with its key characteristics of curiosity, dogged persistence, a comprehensive database and authentic community engagement,” she said.
“Finally, it allows me to highlight the teachings I have learned from Indigenous mentors about the relationship between colonization, intergenerational trauma and early-onset Type 2 diabetes in children.”
Dean served on the UM faculty from 1981 until her retirement in 2015. Among her many accomplishments, she led the development of the innovative Diabetes Education Resource for Children & Adolescents (DER-CA), based at the Winnipeg Children’s Hospital.
She also founded the Maestro Project, the first formal transition program in Canada to support youth with diabetes in moving from pediatric into adult care.
In 2003, Dean was the original primary investigator of the Next Generation Cohort, made up of offspring of those with youth-onset Type 2 diabetes. Researchers continue to study this cohort, which has shed important light on the developmental origins of health and disease.
Dean has earned many awards and honours for her distinguished service and advancement of the field of diabetes and endocrinology. She is a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.
She will be presented with the J. Allyn Taylor International Prize in Medicine at the Robarts Research Institute’s annual Taylor Symposium in December.