Dawn Smith/Libin Institute
Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta
Dr. George Wyse, a world-renowned cardiac arrhythmia clinician-scientist and professor emeritus with the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta, has been chosen as the University of Calgary’s 2017 Lecture of a Lifetime speaker.
The annual event, meant to showcase the University’s top academics and recognize exceptional talent and achievement, is set for 6 p.m. on May 16 at the University of Calgary’s MacEwan Hall.
Dr. Wyse, MD, PhD, who retired in December 2016 from clinical practice, will share highlights from his career, which included research studies that changed the way cardiac arrhythmia patients are treated. He will also share his thoughts on the future of medical education and research.
Dr. Wyse--who has earned numerous awards during his career including a prestigious Annual Achievement Award from the Canadian Cardiovascular Society in 2008, and the Top 40 Alumni award (2007) and Distinguished Alumni award (2005) from the University of Calgary--is humbled by the announcement.
“It’s nice,” he said, noting Lecture of a Lifetime affords him the opportunity to speak to a different audience than the scientists and doctors he has frequently addressed during his career.
Dr. Wyse’s interest in the medical field hails back to his childhood which was spent in British Columbia.
With his father overseas during the Second World War, Dr. Wyse became very close to his mother, who suffered from severe high blood pressure during a time when there were no effective therapies.
Dr. Wyse’s life changed drastically when his mother died of a stroke while he was a still a teen. She was just 42.
Determined to make a difference in the health-care field, Dr. Wyse enrolled in the pharmacy program at the University of British Columbia (UBC) after completing high school.
However, he was “bored silly” in the program, so he took on a research project during his final year. That research project—which earned him an award—piqued his interest in research. This interest led to a lifelong pursuit.
For his postgraduate work, Dr. Wyse enrolled in pharmacology at UBC. He went to Manitoba to pursue his doctorate degree before switching to McGill University to complete his PhD in pharmacology.
Dr. Wyse’s postdoctoral research was conducted at the University of New Mexico (UNM)
“That’s where I honed my skills in vascular biology,” he said.
By the time the Vietnam War came along, Dr. Wyse had been promoted to assistant professor at UNM, but he longed to return to Canada.
“I went on a road trip across Canada to visit medical schools,” he said, noting he visited the University of Calgary in 1970—just four years after it became an independent university.
Dr. Wyse received a grant from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, awarded to increase the number of clinician-scientists by supporting PhDs while they studied medicine, and enrolled in medical school at the University of Calgary in 1971. His class was just the second to graduate.
It was a busy time for Dr. Wyse, as he continued his research during medical school and completed his residency training in Calgary and Portland, where he specialized in cardiology.
He came back to the University of Calgary in 1978 where he started a more than 35-year tenure. He was awarded full professorship in 1985.
“The reason I came back was that I felt the University of Calgary and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Alberta had been very supportive of me,” said Wyse. I wanted to give back.”
Dr. Wyse’s achievements continued on both the clinical and academic side. He was Chief of Cardiology for the Calgary region from 1986 to 1993 and Associate Dean (Clinical Affairs) in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine from 1993 to 1999.
Dr. Wyse’s research on the physiology and pharmacology of the vascular system did not unravel the mysteries of high blood pressure, something he longed to do.
In cardiac arrhythmia research, he had major leadership roles in several projects including the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST) and the Atrial Fibrillation Follow-up Investigation of Rhythm Management (AFFIRM). These trials led to fundamental changes in the way cardiac arrhythmias were treated.
CAST took place in the mid-1980s and resulted in the understanding that some of the agents being used to treat cardiac arrhythmia patients at the time were doing more harm than good.
“The practice was discontinued,” said Wyse. “Not only were those drugs not preventing sudden cardiac death, they were actually increasing mortality.”
AFFIRM, which took place in the 1990s when many cardiologists used drugs to keep people with atrial fibrillation in normal rhythm, showed no significant benefit of using the drugs.
Again, clinical practice was immediately impacted globally by the work of Dr. Wyse and his colleagues. Dr. Wyse’s research work has led to more than 300 publications and gained him international renown, including receiving the 2007 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Heart Rhythmn Society.
He has also held such as roles as president of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Alberta, Northwest Territories and Nunavet.
Dr. Wyse was also the founding coordinator of the Medical Research Council of Canada’s Program Grant in cardiac electrophysiology at the University of Calgary.
Although Dr. Wyse’s career unfolded in a way that he didn’t expect when he first studied pharmacology in the 1960s, he doesn’t regret his decisions.
“Nothing is ever useless,” he said, noting he picked up valuable information along the way.
His research successes are something to be proud of, but Dr. Wyse—who is also a former marathon runner and once had aspirations of making it to the NHL—is also pleased that he has been able to share his knowledge and wisdom as a professor and mentor.
Dr. Wyse’s family is also very important to him.
The father and grandfather has now retired from clinical practice, but is still active on several committees and in the research world.
He is truly excited about the future of medicine, especially in the area of precision medicine.
Get your Lecture of a Lifetime tickets here: http://go.ucalgary.ca/LOAL.html