March 19, 2024

Precision health leader to transform child research impact

Dr. François Bernier appointed new director of Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute
A man in glasses and buttoned down shirt smiles at the camera
Dr. François Bernier

Ally, enabler, innovator, doctor, researcher: these are a few words that describe Dr. François Bernier, MD. He is also known as transformer. “I have the best job in Canada — to work with our exceptional research teams, and our brilliant partners to transform outcomes with children and youth, their families and communities,” says Bernier, who was appointed as the director of the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) on March 1, 2024.

As a clinical geneticist with Alberta Health Services and a physician at Alberta Children’s Hospital, Bernier focuses on the identification of genes for rare genetic disorders. Bernier served as head of medical genetics for over a decade, from 2012 to 2023, and is a professor in the departments of Medical Genetics and Paediatrics at the Cumming School of Medicine.

“Dr. Bernier's invaluable expertise and willingness to provide answers when we had none have left an everlasting impact on our family,” says Natalie Chung. “We are eternally grateful for his remarkable support and guidance.” 

A woman sits on an orange sofa next to a little girl

Natalie Chung with her daughter Everly Tram.

Adrian Shellard

Dr. Bernier is a leader in precision health with 20 years of experience in the diagnosis and management of patients with genetic diseases. 

He co-led the development of the Alberta Precision Health Strategy and its foundational principles of precision health in Alberta.

Dr. Bernier is one of the scientific architects of the largest research initiative in the history of Alberta. In 2023, the Canada First Research Excellence Fund invested $125 million in the University of Calgary’s One Child Every Child (OCEC) initiative, powered by partnerships with 132 organizations across 25 countries. The shared goal: for children and youth in Canada to be the healthiest, most empowered and thriving in the world. Bernier became project lead for OCEC on Dec. 1, 2023.

Five years of exponential growth at ACHRI

On March 1, Bernier assumed ACHRI leadership from Dr. Susa Benseler, MD, PhD. During her tenure from 2018 to 2024, Benseler led ACHRI to new research heights and fostered cross-sectoral partnerships across Canada and around the world. She led the team that created OCEC — shoulder to shoulder with Bernier, Dr. Benedikt Hallgrímsson, PhD, ACHRI’s deputy director, Dr. Michael Hart, PhD, vice-provost (Indigenous Engagement), and many passionate child health researchers and teams.

“We are deeply grateful for Susa’s dedication, leading to ACHRI’s unprecedented success,” says Bernier. “Susa empowered researchers and fueled partnerships that are helping children, families and communities to thrive.”

“We are eternally grateful for Susa’s drive and commitment to child health and wellness,” says Saifa Koonar, president and CEO of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation. “And we are thrilled to welcome François — a tireless champion for researchers, communities and families in Calgary and beyond.”

As chair of the newly formed Canadian Rare Disease Network, Bernier is stewarding Canada’s first rare disease cross-disciplinary network, uniting Canada’s leading clinical, scientific and patient expertise to address the challenges faced by children and adults affected by rare diseases. Dr. Bernier is a co-principal investigator for Care for Rare Canada, a research consortium that studies over 1,000 rare disorders. This multifaceted program has established a national genomic data sharing platform (Genomics4RD) for over 1,000 patients.

“I am leading not for me to succeed, but for all of us to succeed,” he says. “There are so many opportunities in the child health space — we will focus our collective efforts on the greatest impact.”

One Child Every Child

A Canada-first research and translation initiative funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, with a vision for all Canadian children to be the healthiest, most empowered and thriving in the world. Led by the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the University of Calgary, One Child Every Child brings together Indigenous partners, Canada’s child health research institutes, equity-deserving communities, local and national stakeholders as well as global collaborators to dramatically improve the lives of children across Canada and beyond. 

Child Health and Wellness 
The University of Calgary is driving science and innovation to transform the health and well-being of children and families. Led by the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, top scientists across the campus are partnering with Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, and our community to create a better future for children through research. 

François Bernier is a professor in the departments of Medical Genetics and Pediatrics at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and director of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute. He is also a member of the Owerko Centre for Neurodevelopment and Child Mental Health at the CSM. 

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