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2011 New Pioneers Awards - Dr. Mohamed Karmali (video)

Originally from Kenya, Dr. Mohamed Karmali arrived in Toronto in 1976, after completing his medical degree in Scotland and specializing in internal medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Glasgow Teaching Hospitals. Adjusting to life in Canada and to the Canadian medical system was a challenge.

However, with determination, dedication, focus and his sights set high, he overcame many of the common obstacles faced by foreign medical professionals. His hard work paid off. In 1980 he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (FRCP) of Canada with Specialty Certification in Medical Microbiology.

Immediately after obtaining his FRCP qualifications, Dr. Karmali joined the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto as Staff Microbiologist. In 1989, he became the Head of the Microbiology Department; in this position, he applied his skills in persuasion, leadership and planning to develop a department that became highly respected internationally in pediatric medical microbiology.

An internationally recognized physician-scientist, Dr. Karmali has made pioneering contributions in medical microbiology and infectious diseases. His first influential work was the discovery that a major cause for childhood enteritis, a common intestinal infection, was Campylobacter jejuni. He published the first study of the natural history of this infection and pioneered the diagnostic technique, conducted epidemiological studies and investigated its antimicrobial resistance. In fact, the most popular diagnostic method for detecting Campylobacters is referred to as "Karmali's Medium".

Subsequently, Dr. Karmali made a seminal discovery that hemolytic uremic syndrome, the leading cause of acute renal failure in children, was due to Verocytotoxin (VT)-producing Escherichia coli (VTEC). This observation dramatically changed the approach to diagnosing gastrointestinal infections worldwide, and to understanding, preventing, and treating the most severe complications of these infections.

In 1999, Dr. Karmali moved to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to become Director-General of the Lab for Foodborne Zoonoses (LFZ). At LFZ he provides leadership in science and research, from the molecular to the population perspective, to investigate and mitigate foodborne bacterial infections of humans that arise from the interface between humans, animals, and the environment. Well-known internationally for his research on foodborne pathogens, Dr. Karmali has written over 130 papers and 10 book chapters, and delivered over 100 invited lectures around the world.

Since 2006, Dr. Karmali has developed a new program, the Office of Biotechnology, Genomics and Population Health (OBGPH), at the Public Health Agency of Canada. OBGPH is the main Canadian Federal program concerned with human genomics and public health, and has a special interest in nutrigenomics and in inflammatory biomarkers to detect early risk of chronic diseases such as type-2 diabetes.

In 2009, Dr. Karmali received the American Society of Microbiology's (ASM) Becton Dickinson Award for Research in Clinical Microbiology in 2009. Also his research, which led to the discovery of the cause of childhood hemolytic uremic syndrome, was recognized as one of the top 10 Canadian medical advances for children in the last 100 years.

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