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New leadership in the Faculty of Medicine

Taking charge of Medicine’s largest clinical discipline

Dr. Wayne Gulliver is enthusiastic about being an important part of the expansion of Memorial’s Faculty of Medicine.

By Sharon Gray

­Dr Wayne Gulliver is excited about his new academic appointment. He’s now chair of the Discipline of Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine. It’s certainly a big job, with responsibility for about 50 full-time faculty members and more than 150 part-time faculty members located from St. John’s to Grand Falls-Windsor, Corner Brook and into New Brunswick.

Taking on a big job comes naturally to Dr. Gulliver. He recently stepped down as CEO of NewLab Life Science, the parent company of a group of three medical organizations located on LeMarchant Road in St. John’s. NewLab’s subsidiary, Newfoundland Genomics, is licensed to test for ARVC, a life-threatening genetic heart condition. The gene for that disease was discovered in February 2008 through work done in the biomolecular laboratory of Dr. Terry-Lynn Young, Biomedical Sciences.

So why would Wayne Gulliver walk away from acclaimed business success outside the university?

“I decided to step aside as CEO of Newlab Life Sciences because my degree is in medicine, not commerce,” he explained in a recent interview.

To put that remark in perspective, Dr. Gulliver notes that he started his career with a degree in chemistry from Memorial.

“Judging from the fact that I never took a biology course in my undergraduate years, perhaps I really shouldn’t be a medical doctor either,” he joked.

Dr. Gulliver’s qualifications as a Newfoundland born-and-bred specialist in dermatology cannot be disputed. He grew up poor in an area of St. John’s locally known as Rabbittown. The growing campus of Memorial University was nearby; once accepted to university, he pursued academic studies at Memorial, earning a B.Sc. (chemistry), B.Med.Sc., MD ’92, followed by four years of training in internal medicine at Memorial with further specialty training in dermatology at McGill. He returned to St. John’s to take up clinical practice and an academic appointment in 1989.

So, that takes care of the first five decades of his life. Now 52, Dr. Gulliver was already weighing his options for the future when he was approached last spring by the university search committee for a new chair of the Discipline of Medicine.

“I’ve been involved with the medical school since I returned to St. John’s in 1989,” he said. “But when I first came back my clinical skills as a dermatologist were most needed. From the beginning I’ve held an academic appointment with the Faculty of Medicine, and during the last 20 years I’ve served in various positions, until recently as head of the Division of Dermatology within the faculty, and as head of the Department of Dermatology with Eastern Health.”
The move to establish Newfoundland Genomics came from Dr. Gulliver’s research interest in psoriasis, an often-debilitating skin condition. In 1999, he identified two genes with a strong association with this disease. Newlab’s initial psoriasis work had actually begun seven years earlier in 1992, using DNA from 400 patients with 100 controls. Recent studies on international populations suffering from this disease, published in Nature, validate these early genetic findings.

Dr. Gulliver has strong views on many issues, but when it comes to research he is adamant that all genetic research done in Newfoundland and Labrador must result in improved patient care for the people of the province as well as patients worldwide.

Of course he is the first to admit that the recent success Memorial researchers are having in the field of genetics and genomics is based on the hard work of people who have been in the field for a very long time – people like Dr. Jane Green, who last year received a Knowledge Translation Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and Dr. Terry-Lynn Young, whose biomolecular genetics laboratory is making groundbreaking discoveries at a rapid pace in a very new field.

Now that he is “back home” in the Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Gulliver’s vision is firmly set on the expansion of the undergraduate medical curriculum, and the construction of a new building for research and the medical curriculum expansion. In particular, he will focus on developing teaching expertise throughout clinical sites in Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick.
It’s a big job, but Dr. Gulliver is happy to take it on.