richard fedorak
Credit: University of Alberta

Remembering a Research Pioneer and R2R Rockstar

Richard Fedorak, who carved out a remarkable career in 30 years at the University of Alberta, has passed away. But his legacy will live on.

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Professor Richard Fedorak, Dean of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta, distinguished academic, pioneering clinical investigator, and Research2Reality Rockstar, has passed away. He is survived by his wife, Karen, and their two children, Bryan and Kristin.

Fedorak carved out a career over three decades at UofA. He excelled as an educator, leader, and visionary, which earned him a litany of accolades and titles and developed his reputation as an esteemed member of the academic community.

UofA President David H. Turbin commented in a press release that “both the university and the broader health sciences community have lost an exceptional academic and a bold, thoughtful, and values-based leader.”

Innovation was central to Fedorak’s outlook on both the university and province’s future. As such, he was a central figure in the establishment of numerous programs and institutions including the Northern Alberta Clinical Trials and Research Centre, the City of Edmonton’s Health City Initiative, Metabolomic Technologies Inc., and the University of Alberta Health Accelerator program.

As a scholar, Fedorak was a prolific author with over 500 publications to his name. Gastroenterology was his field of choice, and he became an internationally-recognized expert in inflammatory bowel disease as well as the director for UofA’s Division of Gastroenterology.

Back in 2015, we interviewed Fedorak about his work on analyzing gut bacteria to develop diagnostic tools which can catch diseases early on. The project involved collaborations with metabolomic researchers to find evidence of colon cancer via an analysis of molecules inside of human waste.

“Colon cancer occurs from a small benign growth in your colon called a polyp,” explained Fedorak. “Well, if you can identify the polyp before it turned into cancer, that would be great! Because then you can simply go in with a colonoscopy and remove that polyp, and be done with it, and you would never develop cancer.

“And lo and behold, we were able to do that. We were able to use the science in metabolomics, identify metabolites that would predict if you would have a polyp. With high accuracy, we could then go in and remove that polyp, and we would have prevented colon cancer from occurring.”

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in Canada, and the five-year survival diagnosis shifts from 90% at stage I to 13% at stage IV, making early detection vital.

In October of this year, Metabolomic Technologies Inc. announced a $1.4 million evaluation project using this technology, known as PolypDx – the first urine test for the detection and prevention of this cancer. The hope is to improve the early detection of colorectal cancer, particularly for more isolated rural and regional Canadians.

This venture is one of the many ways Fedorak’s influence continues to assert itself. His profound contributions mean that, despite his loss, his family, friends, and colleagues can take comfort knowing that his life’s work could dramatically change lives at home and abroad for the better.

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Barry is a journalist, editor, and marketer for several media outlets including HeadStuff, The Media Editor, and Buttonmasher Magazine. He earned his Master of the Arts in Journalism from Dublin City University in 2017 and moved to Toronto to pursue a career in the media. Barry is passionate about communicating and debating culture, science, and politics and their collective global impact.